An atmospheric tale of amour fou in a German village traumatized by a horrific slaying, “Daybreak” is a generally impressive mood piece flawed by a dramatically unsatisfying third act. Fests and film weeks look like its natural home offshore, plus sales to specialized webs.
Opening is quite a gripper, as the camera roams through a farmhouse in picturesque southern Germany, revealing the terrible slaughter of a family, with the blond daughter’s naked body strung up by her feet and Nazi “SS” runes carved on her back. It’s an early morning in August 1945, and the area is already occupied by American troops.
Dave Gladbaker (Stefan Kurt), a German Jew who’d emigrated to the States and is now back as part of the U.S. intelligence service, is assigned to the investigation, and suspicion soon falls on Karin (Karoline Eichhorn), a refugee (without papers) from the east who was working at the farm as a nurse. Both Gladbaker and the local police chief (Bruno Ganz), a former Nazi collaborator, suspect the slaying was a ritual execution in which the daughter was mistaken for Karin, her look-alike.
While interrogating Karin, Gladbaker reckons she was actually an officer at the Polish concentration camp, Majdanek, where his parents died. Problem is, he’s developing a powerful sexual attraction to the beautiful, icily controlled blonde.
Veteran TV scriptwriter Oliver Storz, 69, maintains an eerie tension during the first half of the film, contrasting the beautiful setting of the sun-baked village with the undertow of dark wartime deeds slowly uncovered as peacetime dawns.
Eichhorn, who starred in Storz’s similarly themed “Three Days in April” (1996 ), is mightily impressive as the mysterious Karin, and the scenes between her and Kurt, good as the methodical investigator, promise an intriguing, “Basic Instinct”–like yarn.
But the resolution is far less powerful than that promised by the buildup, and one key character — Ganz’s cop, given to mumbling mysteriously — is never properly woven into the storyline. Still, as a whole, pic is always very watchable, and production credits, especially Hans Grimmelmann’s light-play lensing, are fine. Original title means “Toward the End of the Night.”