Before Dawn charts the years of exile in the life of famous Jewish Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, his inner struggle for the "right attitude" toward the events in war torn Europe, and his search for a new home.
In 1936, Stefan Zweig, the illustrious author of " 24 Hours of a Woman's Life" and "Letter from an Unknown Woman", leaves Austria for South America. Being Jewish and hating the inhumanity that prevails in Germany while threatening his native country, he has decided to escape the specter of Nazism. Brazil is his chosen country. He is immediately hailed at Rio de Janeiro's Jockey Club by the local jet set. But whereas expect him to take sides and to make a statement against Hitler and his clique, Zweig refuses to renounce his humanity and to indulge in over-simplification: he just cannot condemn Germany and its people. On the other hand, the great writer literally falls in love with Brazil and undertakes the writing of a new book about the country. Accompanied by Lotte, his second wife he explores different regions, including the most remote ones...Written by
Amok (the title of a Stefan Zweig masterwork) meant indeed a temporary, paroxysmal state prone to impulses.
The film, treated in a semi-documentary style with an accentuated preference for plan-sequences (in-camera editing of sequence-like shots), is interesting in itself. But even more interesting perhaps would be to seek, or rather to fantasize, what would have been Zweig's life had he not opted for a terminal attitude. He'd already seen the US joining the War. He probably felt that Germany would inevitably win the conflict, and this would bring about the extermination of Judaism, the end of Western-style democracies, and so on and so forth. Had he lived, however, he'd see the Allies gain the conflict, which would provide him with a breath of optimism and comfort. He'd see his adoptive country, Brazil, leaving (in 1945) a long-overdue dictatorship. Later, already an octogenarian, he'd see Brazil plunging onto another dictatorship - against which Zweig would certainly say nothing, not in the least because he was an anti-communist. One thing is certain: the writer would never live to witness the growth of the largest criminal organization ever invented in Brazil or, for that matter, in any other place. The "Land of the Future" (Zweig's book title) has been since very busy , trying hard to dump her historical promises into the trash cans of History...
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