Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
SIFF ’16: Dawn
Morozov was a narc. The Young Pioneer who informed on his Kulak father was also
largely a propaganda myth, who nearly became Sergei Eisentein’s Waterloo, when Bezhin Meadow, a film largely inspired
by the little Judas met with Stalinist disfavor. Eisenstein’s film now exists
only in fragments, but it has inspired a bizarrely nostalgic take on an era of
intergenerational Cold War, waged by indoctrinated children against their
beleaguered parents. It sure is hard to be a “class enemy” in Laila Pakalnina’s
Dawn (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival.
is now rebooted as the ardent young Janis, but his father remains a crude, drunken,
thieving counter-revolutionary, who will find himself in hot water when his son
drops a dime. Obviously, this creates a rather toxic situation at home, but
Janis finds a surrogate father in Karlis, the village’s ultra-righteous political
officer. Karlis might abuse his authority from time to time, but at least he
helps tidy-up while paying intimidating visits to members of the “Dawn” collective
whose zeal is flagging.
a departure from many Estonian films (such as Ghost Mountaineer, 1944, and In the Crosswind), Pakalanina’s attitude towards the Communist Captive Nations
years is decidedly ambiguous. Janis’s father is irredeemably loutish, whereas
Karlis is a veritable portrait of grizzled leadership. Still, it is hard to get
around scenes of the villagers ransacking their former church. The noble Karlis’s
pop-in visits are also rather awkward. Yet, Pakalnina’s nostalgia for the Young
Pioneers’ camaraderie and smashing accessories seems to hold equal weight as
personal freedoms and national independence, or lack thereof.
terms of style (but not content), Dawn is
probably more closely akin to Martti Helde’s Crosswind than other recent Estonian films. Although Pakalnina’s
approach is more conventional and narrative-driven, cinematographer Wojciech
Staroń (director of Brothers) often
opts long, stately slow tracking shots. The resulting black-and-white images
often look like they were composed to deliberately evoke Eisenstein.
the estranged son and father, Antons Georgs Grauds and Vilis Daudzis seem
perfectly aware of the characters’ clichés and are content to settle for a
stock level of development. However, Wiktor Zborowski’s Karlis is darkly charismatic,
while Liena Smulste is terrific as the exhausted and exasperated workers’
is a visually impressive film, but its flat
characterization and conspicuously selective memory will limit its appeal,
especially in the co-producing countries of Estonia and Poland. It is most
likely not the Socialist Revisionist film Bernie Sanders has been waiting for.
Not recommended (except maybe for aspiring cinematographers), Dawn screens tomorrow (6/5) and next
Friday (6/10) as part of this year’s SIFF.
Labels: Estonian cinema, SIFF '16