“War never stops being hell,” is the message delivered in 1944-set “Broken Sun,” a somber character study in which an Aussie farmer traumatized by WWI memories comes face to face with an escaped Japanese POW. Ambitiously structured with multiple flashbacks and ghostly apparitions, helmer Brad Haynes’ debut applies commendable cultural sensitivity to themes of honor and loyalty, but even willing auds will be tested by its unremittingly bleak tone. Privately financed, self-distributed indie should do modest local biz, assisted by the April 24 release coinciding with ANZAC Day, a holiday commemorating Australian military history. Fest berths and ancillary in Japan are possible.
Though no historical information is supplied, the story springs from the escape of Japanese POW’s in the rural NSW town of Cowra in August 1944. One of the largest such World War II bust-outs, the event is enshrined in Aussie consciousness and has played a significant role in shaping respectful postwar understanding between the nations.
Nonlinear action kicks off with a lengthy series of flashbacks filling in the stories of Jack (Jai Koutrae), a gaunt farmer, and Masaru (Shingo Usami), an escaped POW first seen wandering onto Jack’s property. In well staged recreations of trench warfare in 1916, Jack survives mustard gas attacks and a tragic mission into no-man’s land. Former causes him to now cough up blood between cigarettes, latter finds him haunted by the talking ghost of a fallen comrade.
In the lead-up to the POW escape, kind-faced Masaru is cast as a conscientious objector more intent on survival than towing the “death before the dishonor of capture” line of commanding officer Kamimura (Kuni Hashimoto).
Sometimes abrasively bumping into each other, these sequences prove more interesting and insightful than what’s said once Jack discovers the intruder and holds him at his rundown shack while awaiting the arrival of authorities. Anticipated bonding between the duo is drawn-out and airless, with little added to the psychological portraits of either man. Screenplay instead attempts to fills the gaps with yet more flashbacks, this time to Masaru’s harrowing jungle combat alongside buddy Ashimoto (Kentaro Hara) and Jack’s long-ago encounter with a German prisoner.
Thesping is fine, but well-intentioned messages about the effect of war on ordinary men are repetitive and stifled by a pervasive atmosphere of gloom and regret. That said, the script does eventually manage to link some thematic threads together and deliver a modicum of emotional reward deep in the final furlong.
Visuals on a miniscule budget impress. Production design spells decrepitude in every corner of Jack’s quarters, and lenser Anthony Jennings invokes Australian landscape masters Arthur Boyd and Russell Drysdale with striking imagery of the ruggedly beautiful surroundings. The rest of the tech work shows tender loving care.