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This is a superb Ausralian film made early in the renaissance of film making that commenced with PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK in 1975. BREAK OF DAY is from 1977 just as cinemas were recovering from the advent of colour TV which decimated attendance. It is part of a string of films exploring the past and is set around 1919. Otherfilms of the production time 1976-79 that deserve to be seen are DEVILS PLAYGROUND, NEWSFRONT, and THE GETTING OF WISDOM. This one, BREAK OF DAY, is a quiet rural film about a damaged soldier recovering from World war One. His romance with an older woman played by Sarah Kestelman is especially tender and their troubled romance is gently presented with honesty and heartfelt care. She hasn't been seen in many films (ZARDOZ, LIZSTOMANIA of all things!) and believe it or not will soon be seen in the last of the STAR WARS franchise REVENGE OF THE SITH. However, for the mature viewer, BREAK OF DAY is a quiet drama and a DVD transfer would look superb. It is like the some of the DH Lawrence films made in the UK in the 80s like THE RAINBOW or returned soldier pix like A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. So many Australian films of this period are historical dramas and most deserve to be re packaged and released. Most are very good, like THE IRISHMAN, CADDIE, and those above.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie when it first came out in 1976. Back then I thought it
was unusual, but not all that significant. However I never forgot it.
Now, 40 years later, I feel it is more unique than I first thought.
It must have been the first film to depict the Australians landing at Gallipoli since "Tell England" in 1931. There have been many depictions since, especially around the 100th Anniversary last year, but "Break of Day" was made quite a few years before mini-series such as "1915", "A Fortunate Life" and "Anzacs". However, with the exception of Peter Weir's Gallipoli, like nearly all films and series since, it didn't capture the scale of the event no doubt budget being the limiting factor.
In 1976, many veterans of WW1 were still alive, although they would have been around 80-years of age. And yet the Anzac legend had been through a number of evaluations, especially in light of the Vietnam War. The lead character, Tom Cooper (Andrew McFarlane), is the antithesis of the glorification of war, an attitude that reflects 70's sentiment as much as that of the 1920's.
Andrew McFarlane almost seems too good-looking for the part, in the same way that Hollywood's Jeffery Hunter often seemed too handsome for many of his roles. His character, Tom Cooper, is complex; he works on the town newspaper, but seems happier in the bush. His near abandonment of his pregnant wife and the relationship with the much older Alice Hughes (Sara Kestleman) is arresting, and adds to the slightly unsettling nature of the film there is subtext all over the place, but the film is subtle enough not to spell it out.
The film has a detached quality with the pace and feel of the Merchant Ivory films, which it predates, or even a film such as Fred Zinneman's "Five Days One Summer". The film has many things in its favour including a fine orchestral score by George Dreyfus, and a believable recreation of 1920's rural life in Australia. We see a number of Alice Hughes' paintings, which were beautifully painted by Queensland artist Dale Marsh it's a small point, but it adds to the texture of the film.
"Break of Day" has atmosphere to spare, and is a movie that doesn't deserve to be totally forgotten.
This film is a forgotten minor classic of the Australian industry. It very effectively evokes post WWI Australia, and the values and society in a small country town, and a returned serviceman suffering post traumatic stress. The soldier is brilliantly played by Andrew MacFarlane in what must be one of his best performances. I don't know why this film isn't better known or more popular - it's subject matter isn't uplifting, but it is an engaging and important film - screaming for a DVD release! If you can find this film somewhere it's well worth looking at. It makes a nice companion piece to The Mango Tree, and is a superior film to that.
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