Chris Knight: Still, it provides much food for thought, and is beautifully shot to boot
The Italian title of this drama from Polish director Jacek Borcuch translates as “Sweet End of Day,” an ironic title for a film that grapples with issues of racism, violence and the European refugee crisis.
But there are other ways to unpack that name. The story revolves around Maria Linde (Krystyna Janda), a 60-something Polish poet who years ago moved to an idyllic Italian island and married a local man; she now has a daughter and two grandchildren. The townsfolk love her, and she has just won a major literary prize. Life is sweet.
But there are rumblings of trouble. During a party, Maria is visited by the police chief, warning that some refugees have escaped from a nearby camp, and advising caution. Then a grandchild goes missing. He is soon found by Nazeer (Lorenzo De Moor), a family friend and Egyptian refugee, and while there’s never any notion of impropriety, the very fact that Nazeer is foreign discomfits the authorities.
But the plot really gets rolling when Maria gives her award’s acceptance speech in the town hall. Troubled by some xenophobic comments from her daughter, and also by a terrorist attack in Rome, she calls out Europeans for their humanitarian hypocrisy and then describes the attack as “a work of art.” It would be incendiary enough in print; edited and posted online as a video, it throws Maria into the middle of the refugee debate.
Borcuch frames the tale carefully and with nuance. Maria is revealed to be the daughter of Holocaust survivors, which gives her a specific point of view regarding European history, migration and “camps.” But she’s also carrying on an affair with Nazeer, which, even if it’s not clouding her judgment, suggests otherwise.
Dolce Fine Giornata is a thoughtful drama, although it stumbles a few times, as when Maria’s husband says bluntly of their Egyptian friend: “He’s better educated that the locals, works harder, and people are afraid.” And it concludes on a heavy-handed metaphor.
Still, it provides much food for thought, and is beautifully shot to boot. Cinematographer Michel Symek has a great eye for light – he was a grip on Cold War, which was Oscar-nominated for its cinematography, and doubtless learned something there. Many of the key scenes take place in the half-light of twilight, pre-dawn or just after sunset; not the glorious gold of the filmmaker’s magic hour, but a dimmer, less defined time. Sweet End of Day indeed.