The film industry loves to make movies about the film industry and “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes” from Austrian/Sri Lankan director Kevin Kopacka, is one of the newest films to join this long tradition after its release in the U.S. on June 24. The Guild Cinema luckily only had a one-night screening of the film so hopefully no one else — save for the poor unfortunate souls in the movie house on Saturday, July 9 — will have to subject themselves to this bore of a watch.
“Dawn” starts out following a couple, Dieter (Fredrick von Lüttichau) and Margot (Luisa Taraz), as they explore a possibly abandoned castle inherited by Margot from some dead family member; I say possibly because, at most points, the film can’t decide if the castle is truly abandoned or not. It would seem so, based on its decrepit and dilapidated state, but the couple spends the night there in a bed with some suspiciously nice white sheets — however, this is only a minor annoyance in a film as annoying as a crying child in a restaurant, although far less forgivable.
The story told between the couple is somewhat engaging. It’s far and away the strongest section of the movie — not an outright crime like the rest of the film. Lüttichau and Taraz play well off each other, with each embodying the toxic traits of their characters in a believable but dramatically exaggerated way. If the film had ended when their story did, I probably wouldn’t have been so distraught.
But alas, we must discover that Dieter and Margot are not the main characters of our story but are, in fact, characters in a film being directed by the one and only genius director Gregor Grause (Jeff Wilbusch) and his assistant/co-writer/lover Eva Ziehnagel (Anna Platen). If the storyline between Dieter and Margot was only moderately engaging, this one was a total non-starter. At no point in the film did I find myself even moderately caring or engaging with a single character presented in the framing device.
A lot of this can be blamed on Kopacka and co-writer Lili Villányi, whose writing role (if I had to guess) seems to have been extraordinarily minimal, as the rest of the movie is simply the other characters reminding Grause — our Kopacka substitute — how much of a genius he is.
There are some scenes between Grause and Ziehnagel that read like they could have been real interactions between Kopacka and Villányi; Grause rejects Ziehnagel’s suggestions for the ending of the Dieter/Margot film at almost every turn: something I imagine Kopacka would have done. There isn’t enough here to believe it’s some self-aware commentary, though.
The one thing “Dawn” does possibly well is the cinematography. Cinematographer Lukas Dolgner crafts some interesting and visually engaging images, but these are heavily overshadowed by too many moments that feel like commercials for an ARRI camera. It’s astounding how a film that presents so many intriguing visual concepts can still feel so visually stale.
These brief interesting images aren’t nearly enough to compensate for just how genuinely boring the film is. Even at a meager one-hour, 13-minute runtime, the film still manages to astutely live up to its tagline: “Eternity awaits.” The most interesting and engaging portion of “Dawn” ends at about the halfway mark, so why couldn’t the film end there too? That question, as well as “How did this film even get made?” were the only two I found myself asking during a movie desperate to conjure up interesting philosophical postulations.
By the time we clawed our way to the end credits, I was surprised to see that Gaspar Noé was not involved with the creation of this film, considering how confidently derivative it is of films like “Climax” and “Lux Æterna”— an impressive feat considering the latter hadn’t even been released at the time of filming “Dawn.” Kopacka takes the wrong lessons from Noé’s filmmaking, though, and forgets the compelling story to go along with his interesting visuals.
Prior to writing this, I didn’t get the chance to watch the other films in Kopacka’s filmography to see where “Dawn” fits within his larger body of work. Thinking about it now, though, I imagine I saved myself from hours of boredom and torment. I do hope Kopacka can find a way to hone in on his storytelling technique, but this film tells me Kopacka already believes he’s achieved greatness, blissfully unaware of the mediocrity that he’s stuck in.
John Scott is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JScott050901