Dir. Bjorn Runge. Sweden, 2004. 108 mins.
Already the recipient of four Swedish Oscars and a hit in its home territory, Bjoern Runge's fourth feature turns out to be yet another one of the recently fashionable multi-episode panoramic spreads that portray contemporary family life in various states of distress. Three separate, unrelated stories, each one rooted in a different social background, focus on one night in the life of several people, all at a crucial point in their lives. Despite being heavily over-written and nervously shot and framed, the result is immensely helped by some intense, powerful, Bergmanesque performances, in which all characters wear their hearts on their sleeves, never saying less than they think - and then some. Though the final result looks too talky, belaboured and stagy to travel very far outside the Scandinavian market, world festivals and art houses are bound to welcome it.
Runge, working from his own script, opens with a heart-transplant surgery, signifying the deep, painful probe that will follow, and concludes with the grey, bleak light of a Northern autumnal daybreak, indicating that the light may be dim, but at least the night has come to an end. In between these bookends simultaneously unfold three separate plots, exposing the raw, most painful aspects faced by a number of families in crisis.
In the first story a surgeon (Jakob Eklund) who, instead of being promoted is fired from his hospital, and his wife (Pernilla August), host dinner for their best friends, a fellow surgeon (Leif Andree) and his spouse (Marie Richardson) - who also happens to be the sacked surgeon's mistress.
The second strand follows an older woman (Ann Petren) suffering from acute depression, having been kicked out by her husband after 26 years of marriage, in favour of a much younger substitute.
In the third episode, a bricklayer (Magnus Krepper), cheated out of his fee by a dishonest client, finds himself in the house of an elderly couple who make him an offer he can't afford to refuse, although he would very much like to.
Developing the three stories on parallel lines, Runge brings each to an angry dramatic climax. The surgeon who has repeatedly cheated on his wife because he felt life should offer him something more, is left without a job and possibly without a family. The divorcee pays an unexpected visit to her former husband and his new wife and pours out all the bile she had accumulated in her loneliness, scaring them out of their wits. And the bricklayer looks into the ugly face of an older, reactionary, racist, and runs away horrified, feeling that nothing, not even much needed cash, can justify completing his assignment with them.. Still, the day breaks after all, carrying with it something that if it is not quite a promise, at least looks like some kind of compromise.
Alternating between handheld camerawork and merciless TV-style close-ups nailing the actors for each of their soliloquies, Runge drives the episodes into a frenzy.
However the dialogue and confrontations have a strong theatrical feel, particularly in the climactic moments, that would be better accommodated on stage. Also, the parallel telling of three stories which are thematically, if not dramatically linked, poses several problems that are not quite resolved here, like, for instance, the jarring switch from one story to another, harming the flow and dramatic intensity.
Daybreak's saving grace rests with a dedicated cast whose performances are studied in depth and rendered with outmost sincerity. Every pore of August's countenance screams the anguish and the helpless frustration of a betrayed wife, Ann Petren's wicked spite reaches terrifying levels, and the rest are not far behind. For Nordic angst, it's hard to expect more.
Prod co: Auto Images
Int'l sales: Trust Film Sales
Prod: Clas Gunnarson
Scr: Bjoern Runge
Cinematography: Ulf Brantas
Ed: Lena Dahlberg
Prod des: Catarina Schiller
Costumes: Anna Agren
Music: Ulf Dageby
Main cast: Pernilla August, Jakob Eklund, Marie Richardson, Leif Andree, Peter Andersson, Ann Petren, Sanna Krepper, Ingvar Hirdvall, Marika Lindstrom, Magnus Krepper, Camilla Larsson