A dark and provocative drama about the need to go to the very edge to find possible redemption, "Daybreak" is one of the most impressive films to come out of Sweden in the past year. Ace acting, powerful direction and engaging storylines should help the film reap respectable box office results at home and ensure it a slot in a major fest

A dark and provocative drama about the need to go to the very edge to find possible redemption, “Daybreak” is one of the most impressive films to come out of Sweden in the past year. Ace acting, powerful direction and engaging storylines should help the film reap respectable, if not great, box office results in Sweden, where it preemed Nov. 14, and ensure it a slot in an upcoming major fest to launch offshore exposure.

Pic centers on a handful of people in an unidentified Swedish town over a 24-hour period. Some know each other, others don’t, but come morning, all of their lives will have changed in one way or another.

Rickard (Jakob Eklund) is a successful surgeon at the local hospital. After a hard night’s work, he’s told he isn’t going to get the prestigious new job he was expecting as he’s sometimes endangered his patients’ lives. After talking with his colleague, Mats (Leif Andree), Rickard visits his mistress, Sofie (Marie Richardson), intending to end their affair. But she tells him she’s pregnant with his child.

Meanwhile, Rickard’s wife, Agnes (Pernilla August), along with their two sons, is busy preparing to move from their luxurious seaside home to the town where Rickard’s new job was supposed to be waiting. Phone calls from a woman in the middle of the night have led Agnes to suspect Rickard is having an affair.

Anita (Ann Petren) is a lonely, divorced woman who supports herself by illegally selling drugs she’s managed to acquire. She’s bitter toward her ex-husband, Olof (Peter Andersson), who left her for the much younger Petra (Sanna Krepper). Olof and Petra are shacked up together in the house where he and Anita once lived.

Finally, there’s Anders (Magnus Krepper), a bricklayer who works day and night to provide for his wife and his daughter, but whose constant absence is alienating him from them. This morning, an elderly couple, Knut (Ingvar Hirdwall) and Mona (Marika Lindstrom), want to hire him to seal their house off from the outside world. Though it’s a strange request, the pay is good, so he reluctantly agrees.

The three different stories evolve simultaneously without ever colliding.

Rickard and Agnes invite colleague Mats and his wife for dinner, which quickly turns into a dark game of hidden and not-so-hidden emotions. And Anita decides to pay a surprise visit to her ex-husband and his g.f.

All of the strands deal with people who are pushed to the very edge but who, in one way or another, find a way back from the precipice. When the night is over, most have been emotionally hurt, but through the pain they’ve found a way to redemption, forgiveness and the possibility of a new start.

Writer-helmer Bjorn Runge’s first feature was the Stellan Skarsgard starrer, “Harry & Sonja,” several years ago. He’s since worked mainly in television, turning out more and more impressive work, and with “Daybreak” takes a further step up with a script that’s both balanced and deeply human. Runge likes his characters, but he also sees both their good and their bad sides clearly.

Lenser Ulf Brantas, who works regularly with Lukas Moodysson, keeps the camera constantly moving and following the characters, sometimes going for close-ups, sometimes allowing them to walk away. This creates a sense of unease, which suits the sometimes uncomfortable nature of the material. Music by Ulf Dageby, who’s scored most of Stefan Jarl’s films, also contributes to the tension, binding the stories together in a way reminiscent of P.T. Anderson in “Magnolia.”

Performances are tops, especially Petren’s as the lonely Anita, a part that in the hands of a lesser actress could easily have gone over the top. Also impressive is Eklund, as the surgeon who seemingly confronts all the bad news in his life with an icy coolness.

Daybreak

Sweden

Production

A Triangelfilm release of an Auto Images production, in association with Film i Vast and Bjorn Runge. (International sales: Trust Film Sales, Copenhagen.) Produced by Clas Gunnarsson. Directed, written by Bjorn Runge.

Crew

Camera (color), Ulf Brantas; editor, Lena Dahlberg; music, Ulf Dageby; art director, Catarina Schiller; costume designer, Anna Agren; sound (Dolby Digital), Niklas Lilja. Reviewed at Sture, Stockholm, Nov. 10, 2003. Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Pernilla August, Jakob Eklund, Marie Richardsson, Leif Andree, Peter Andersson, Ann Petren, Sanna Krepper, Ingvar Hirdwall, Marika Lindstrom, Magnus Krepper.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more