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Break of Day
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"An excess of gentility"
2 stars

Break of Day is a painterly period piece about a young man (Andrew McFarlane) who returns from Gallipoli broody and dissatisfied because of a newfound awareness of his own cowardice and mortality.

Disinterested in his pregnant wife (Ingrid Mason, striving to make an impression in a scant number of scenes), he begins an affair with an artist lady (British import Sara Kestelman) who’s rented a cottage by the beach (out of season) for her painting. She has a liberating effect on him, which is reversed by the arrival of a crowd of her arch bohemian friends.

Director Ken Hannam (Sunday Too Far Away) and screenwriter Cliff Green (Picnic at Hanging Rock) eschew action and dramatic high points for small gestures. Green was interested in exploring the devastating effect of the First World War on young soldiers, based on diaries he’d read. He also illustrates the flipside of the Anzac legend - Australian men who came back angry and alienated from their mates. But his ideas aren’t clearly formulated in McFarlane’s sullen, necessarily introverted performance. Green’s habit of giving anecdotal speeches to his supporting cast also works against him here, as they’re not the characters we especially want to learn about. Also mistaken was basing the climax around a country cricket match - and a particularly slow-moving, non-cinematic game at that.

Kestelman contributes a finely modulated performance, but the visiting artists are mostly a noisy parade of fey stereotypes. Hannam’s direction is attuned to the nuances of Green’s script, and Russell Boyd’s cinematography is appropriately evocative of Australian painting. But, ultimately, I found Break of Day too gentle to care about or feel involved by.

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originally posted: 07/23/03 13:33:51
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