When Day Breaks (Kad Svane Dan): Toronto Review

Sluggish Serbian drama offers up memories of repressions past and present.

Goran Paskaljevic directs this Belgrade-set drama about a retired music professor who discovers his family's tragic fate during the Holocaust.

TORONTO -- Serbian filmmaker Goran Paskaljevic (Cabaret Balkan) explores the repercussions of a seldom-seen side of the Holocaust in When Day Breaks (Kad Svane Dan), an earnest but rather plodding tale of one elderly man’s encounter with his dark and unknown origins. Hefty historical backstory should guarantee additional fest exposure for this Toronto premiere, while theatrical play will remain limited to a few Euro screens.

An opening montage of archive footage recounts the history of the Belgrade Fairground, whose newly constructed modernist buildings were the centerpiece of the city’s international fair when it was first launched in 1937. Only five years later, the Nazi occupation transformed the pavilion into a concentration camp, killing thousands of Jews there with specially equipped gas trucks known as “soul suckers” while holding tens of thousands prisoner in the converted detention center, which since then has fallen to ruin and is currently home to families of Romani squatters.

The script (co-written with Filip David) approaches these events via a retiring music professor (Mustafa Nadarevic, When Father Was Away on Business), who at the start of the film receives an invitation to the local Jewish museum, where he soon learns the truth about his family: While he had always believed himself the son of Christian farmers, the professor finds out that his real parents were actually a Serbian Jewish couple who handed him off to friends before being rounded up and murdered at the Belgrade camp.

“This is someone else’s life, not mine!” is how the professor initially takes the news, but he gradually begins to seek out survivors of the war to learn more about his background, and eventually decides to conduct a performance of his actual father’s long lost composition, “When Day Breaks,” for a Holocaust memorial service to be held at the fairground.

Capturing much of the action in lengthy, intricately lit close-ups, Paskaljevic and regular cinematographer Milan Spasic offer up a slow burning, one-note drama that never quite gets off the ground until the lively closing memorial sequence—although an earlier Gypsy wedding scene reveals the filmmaker’s talent for combining music and emotion within a colorful set-piece, and one that shifts from joy to ruin in a matter of minutes.

Indeed, the Romani aspects of the narrative—and the parallels that Paskaljevic clearly seems to be drawing between their current oppression in Serbia and the fate of the Jews during WWII—are perhaps the most intriguing part of an otherwise labored affair, albeit one that deserves recognition for gazing so directly into so much darkness.


Production companies: Nove Film, Zepter Internaitonal, Maxima Film, Arsam international

Cast: Mustafa Nadarevic, Predrag Ejdus, Nebojsa Glogovac, Meto Jovanovski

Director: Goran Paskaljevic

Screenwriters: Filip David, Goran Paskaljevic

Producers Goran Paskaljevic, Damir Teresak, Ilann Girard

Director of photography: Milan Spasic

Production designer: Milenko Jeremic

Costume designer: Marina Medenica

Music: Vlatko Stefanovski

Editor: Kristina Pozenel

Sales: Arsam International

No rating, 90 minutes