Social realist drama Daybreak by Albanian director Gentian Koci, which won the best actress award for Ornela Kapetani when it premiered at Sarajevo Film Festival, competed in the 1-2 section at the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival.
Daybreak is a very harrowing story about what it takes to survive. What inspired you to tell it?
This story comes from my inner sensations, condensed from my daily observations of people walking on the streets of Tirana and other European cities. I tend to observe their faces and try to wonder how they feel; what their struggles are. I wanted to awaken the political nerve of people. I strongly believe that the pressure on them comes from the political and socio-economic structure and the indifference of those with power over them. I seem them as part of a chain. Because of pressures from above, the links of this chain break and people start to fight against each other, in order to keep the small things they have in their lives at any cost.
What reaction do you hope and expect audiences to have?
I believe artists are idealists at their core. I really hope that this film could make the audience deeply reflect on things happening around them, on their relations with other people, and on how difficult it is to survive in the society we’re living in. From these kind of reflections I really hope they could find the strength to change something, even if it’s a very small change in their lives.
The tagline for the film is “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. Did you intend main protagonist Leta to be morally ambiguous?
None of us is perfect. I don’t like to create black-and-white characters. I prefer grey zones, because there you have both visible and invisible elements of a character. All of the characters are grey somehow; they are with Leta and try to help her, but they have to keep their own things together. Because of the socio-political system we’re living in, we are with each other and at the same time against each other. The audience has to ask themselves important questions about the characters’ complex intentions.
Ornela Kapetani is outstanding as Leta. Did her performance come easily?
It was very difficult of course. We had so many long takes. But she’s a very talented actress, and we worked really closely to build a character who reaches that level of psychological realism. I was very happy to find her after a lot of interviews and video casting.
What inspired the documentary feel of Daybreak?
Working on documentaries before helped me to envision the style of the film, because I wanted to shoot the scenes in a realist, concrete way, as if I could capture the actual reality of things. From the beginning I had a clear idea of what style the film would be, and aesthetic choices I would make. I wanted to cut away all cinematic language artifice, and make a deal with the audience. They’re coming into the dark theatre to watch a movie but will follow the story with their own eyes, without feeling this kind of intermediary presence or even over-presence of the director. Of course this made my work very difficult, especially when it came to working with the actors or my DoP, and sometimes we were on the edge, but I just went for it. In terms of other filmmakers, Abbas Kiarostami was an inspiration.
Using an area’s name as a title for a movie might be an indication of directorial confidence, but it may also suggest a filmmaker trying to bite off more than they can chew. How does one portray a district with all its quirks and vibrancies? That’s the question Modi Barry and Cedric Ido must have asked themselves while making their debut feature La vie de Chateau. Presented in the 1-2 Competition at the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival, the picture feels like a faithful portrayal of everyday life of working-class people living nearby Chateau d’Eau metro station in Paris. The film’s fast pace, witty dialogues and freaky story may attract some viewers, but Chateau’s lack of narrative cohesion will be off-putting for those who just wanted to feel the pulse of the neighbourhood.
Charles (Jacky Ido) is a thirtysomething self-described entrepreneur, the head of a bunch of men whose job is to promote a local beauty salon to women passing by. With the younger guys from the street looking up to him, we observe his admirable king-of-the-pack position, while his burst of anger when he discovers that his supposedly one-of-a-kind jacket is just a regular, worthless rag shows his overzealous care for elegance and class. He’ll find himself in a bit of a trouble when his employees start questioning his authority and the salon’s manager schemes to replace him with another street solicitor, Bebe. A conflict arises as Bebe’s style of doing business (he’s more into sporty tank tops than fancy shirts and jackets) is different to Charles’. The looming beef has its moments, but at some point the motif completely disappears. Much like other plotlines in the film, it stays unresolved.
Other inhabitants of Chateau are depicted with little to no nuance. There’s the owner of the salon, Dan, who asks Charles to spy on his wife and see if she’s cheating on him; there’s Moussa, trying to convince Charles to do business with him. Some bits and pieces are presented as a backstory for the characters, but the rapid jumping from one person to another makes it hard to focus and care for either of them. There’s a compelling dynamic between Charles and a Kurdish barber, whose salon the main protagonist wants to buy. Barry and Ido offer an interesting take on the lives of Parisian immigrants, juxtaposing the Kurdish poet as an exiled man unable to cope with the happy-go-lucky Charles, who roams the city as a proud Parisian.
The movie’s upbeat and playful atmosphere may attract some viewers wanting to take a break from more serious works on the festival circuit, but its predictability and lack of clear structure makes it hard to say what the directors were getting at. Playing it safe is not Charles’ modus operandi, but the directors didn’t follow his style and took an easy way out framing the film as a comedy of errors, where coincidences spring up like mushrooms and one bad decision leads to another.
At times, the score is perhaps too hammy, trying to suggest to the audience when to laugh. The mostly hand-held camera diligently follows the characters, offering us a lot of close-ups on actors’ faces, while not that much time is spent on the streets, which is an odd choice for a movie about a city’s area. But then, what’s a neighbourhood without its inhabitants? Just a few blocks of flats indeed.