Beans From a Marriage: Swede Film Doesn't Amount to a Hill

"Don't you ever get the peculiar feeling of 'Is this all?' " serially unfaithful surgeon Rickard (Jakob Eklund) asks his wife, Agnes (Pernilla August), in Daybreak. Spectators may find themselves asking the same question about writer-director Björn Runge's film, a studied, overwrought look into Personal Crisis and Redemption.

Runge gives us scenes from several marriages—with increasingly silly plot contrivances—all transpiring over a 24-hour period in an unnamed Swedish town. Rickard, after a grueling night of performing open-heart surgery, callously ends his affair with Sofie (Marie Richardson, a Scandinavian Jessica Lange), who's married to his good friend and colleague Mats (Leif Andrée). Mats and Sofie, however, exact revenge by humiliating their hosts during dinner at Rickard and Agnes's sleekly designed home. Workaholic construction worker Anders (Magnus Krepper), who dreams of buying a summer house, incurs the disdain of his wife and teenage daughter when he forgoes a snuggly afternoon of pizza and video renting with them to take a lucrative assignment from Knut and Mona (Ingvar Hirdwall and Marika Lindström), a xenophobic, agoraphobic couple who want to transform their entire residence into a panic room. Anita (Ann Petrén), her face pickled with rage from losing Olof (Peter Andersson), her husband of 26 years, to Petra (Sanna Krepper), a physical therapist half his age, peddles in the valley of the dolls, selling roofies in a parking garage. After a cash-poor, downer-addicted priest barters a stun gun for sedatives, Anita uses the malevolent device to torture her ex and his young blonde bride.

After a long Nordic night's journey into day, replete with ranting, weeping, and Stockholm syndrome, the players arrive at a schematic, tidy moment of clarity. Morning has broken: Errant fathers and sadistic ex-wives are forgiven and venture forth into the blue light; Rickard breaks down and hugs his son Jonas (Johan Kvarnström); Anders wants to have a picnic en famille; Anita discards her weapon of mass destruction.


Written and directed by Björn Runge
February 2 through 15, Film Forum

The failings of Daybreak can be summed up in this maxim from The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan: "Tynan's Law of Responsible Cinema: all films that seek seriously to diagnose the Contemporary Human Predicament are bad." In this cluttered ensemble film, characters are no more than the modern dilemmas they represent: upper-middle-class alienation, the exhausting pursuit of cash and middle-class trappings, paranoia, pill popping. "Don't you ever stop to wonder what life is all about?" bonkers Anita asks Olof, bound to a chair. It's one of a series of banal queries that Runge wants us to take seriously—but which inspire nothing more than a shrug of indifference.

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Years and years later since it was written I come across this review.  But I've only just watched Daybreak tonight (18.10.2012), a 2003 film.


"Tynan's Law of Responsible Cinema: all films that seek seriously to diagnose the Contemporary Human Predicament are bad."


I know how the reviewer feels, for Daybreak can appear to occupy a much worn, over familiar and actually highly annoying territory in film drama just filled with couples arguing. It may appear to be portraying the zeitgeist or something. It may appear to be saying something deeply penetrating about the human condition which one should not try to escape from, and may appear to use as collateral to its assertion the proof that everyone has these arguments and they don't go away!


However, I really think that this film is different. The 3 different, overwrought stories kind of connect as people pass each other, without the stories connecting. And you have to ask why that is, after Short Cuts and so on, is it a kind of cinematic joke? And I think it is. It's a joke.

and that helps appreciate the whole film, which should not be taken so heavily. It is kind of lightly sardonic, spelling out that the film can provide more of a bird's eye picture on the kind of relationship fodder it deals with, which so many other films have dealth with, and is over familiar and kind of boring in itself. The bird's eye picture is in the detatchment, in that this is stuff - the relationships, the discordances - we exactly need not think is the zeitgeist or a discovery of something essential in the human predicament.


No, it's just a few stories. The film, despite all its heavy, heavy dramaturgy and agression in relationships and the feelings of foreboding one might see in those, is not so much about that, it is about concepts. It is abstracted, simple and not trying to sell anything, not trying to say anything at all.


I think I ought to point out that this film's virtue is exactly in that it doesn't claim to be about the human predicament or modern day culture or humanity, but just paints out a few pictures.


Despite that the action can be hard to take and annoying, Daybreak has helped me appreciate things just for what they are, people just as what they are. This is quite an achievement for a film, I think. Where I might usually have rolled my eyes and edged away from the characters in my mind, thinking I'm just suffering more crap from a writer replicating the idea of something I am far too tired to deal with in reality which brings nothing to say in itself.


No, the portraits just are, and are conceptual. The couple bricking theselves in, covering up their windows in an age where the husband does not want to stand by captured in some future time and watch criminals break in and rape his wife in front of him. These are powerful images from our modern time, images which last. And the point I am making about daybreak is that it is not forcing anything down your throat, it is just calmly presenting these images, and, in my experience anyway, helping with understanding of characters. For example the divorced wife who, it seems, in the end, just HAD to do what she did to her ex-husband and her lover, because she didn't understand. It was something that was latent, some force that was unresolved and was so powerful it defined her and her life until this inevitable outpouring in the kidnap


 I think it's a very sympathetically produced film with really very good acting indeed all round. Yes, it can be unpleasant to watch first time around and can seem like a struggle to get through, but in the most part I think it really is a lovely film. This hit me some time after watching the film. If you jump ship early, you will not realise anything like that.


 So give it a chance, I suggest. I recommend it.


I was reading around for some reviews and found this one in The Village Voice, for I feel on the whole the film is under recognised. I disagree with the BBC (UK) reviewer Tom Dawson, who contended, also some years ago, "Humourless, self-important and dramatically contrived, it's vastly inferior to such American ensemble works as Magnolia and 21 Grams, and to Ingmar Bergman's forthcoming drama Saraband."


While I thought Magnolia was a serious film, mostly really worth its own salt, Magnolia is certainly much more self-important, much more lacking in true humour by the real meaning of that word (not meaning silly or diverting), and more dramatically contrived than Daybreak. I think, clearly, overall, there is more quality in Daybreak, a film that sustains. While "Magnolia", which I rate as one of the most important films of the last ten years or so, is a totally different kettle of fish, attempting to deal with the subject of pre-determinism of, in the universe, an amazingly advanced theme. And perhaps that is why the drama suffers in "Magnolia". For example, the Tom Cruise storyline as the film goes on is harder still to watch, and much more annoying, self-important and overwrought than the serious, cloying parts of "Daybreak". Actually the Cruise character seriously dissuades me from watching Magnolia over again, even despite all the virtues of that film, it's a real off putter.


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