a film by Romed Wyder

The captivating psychological huis clos Dawn, coming soon to Swiss screens

by Giorgia del Don

Romed Wyder steps back into the limelight with his latest compelling feature film, a frightening and lucid journey into the mind of a young Zionist terrorist

After more than a year’s anticipation (having had its first international screening at the Solothurn Film Festival 2014) Dawn is finally hitting Swiss screens: on 29 April in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and on 10 June in the German-speaking part of the country. A full ten years after Absolut, Romed Wyder steps back into the limelight with his latest compelling feature film, which is a frightening and lucid journey into the mind of Elisha (played by the highly-talented Joel Basman), a young Zionist terrorist who is consumed by doubt and haunted by the ghosts of an ever-present past.

Dawn is the film adaptation of the novel Dawn by Elie Wiesel, who miraculously survived imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp. As Wyder himself has said, what fascinated him right from the start was why this Nobel Peace Prize laureate felt the need to write a story about the state of mind of a “trainee” terrorist, a man who chooses violence as his only weapon and escape. This ambiguity, the desire to put yourself in the shoes of the enemy, of that dark alter ego that spies on us relentlessly, characterises Wyder’s entire film, transforming it into a moment suspended between an abhorrent past and a future as enticing as it is uncertain.

With this, his latest feature film, Romed Wyder takes us back to a moment in history which is too often forgotten, to when Palestine was under British mandate and the armed Zionist resistance fought the intruder with all its forces to accelerate the creation of the long yearned-for Jewish State. Dawn tells the story of five Zionist terrorists whose mission it is to detain and kill a British official should the British army decide to ignore their demands and execute a member of their guerrilla gang who has, in turn, been taken prisoner. Right from the beginning it seems clear that their chances of success in these negotiations are slim. Indeed, the central subject matter of the film shifts almost instantaneously from the narrative to the psychological plane. Confined in a small space, awaiting a verdict (which will be given at dawn), the five protagonists of Dawn start to reveal, against their will and in a building and relentless crescendo, the deceptively small grey areas that fill their existence.

Starting with an overview resembling a macabre allegory, Wyder gradually focuses in on the state of mind of Elisha, who has survived imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp and been converted, perhaps against his will (this is, in actual fact, the central question of the film) into a terrorist. Chosen as the one who must kill the British official, Elisha withdraws increasingly into the horrors that inhabit his mind. Doubt, regret, rage as well as the need to feel alive again seem to ricochet around his head like the balls in a pinball machine gone mad. How can you think rationally when the world around you has lost all substance? What’s left to hold on to when your homeland, your family and your roots disappear? Is the need to reinvent a future for yourself so strong that it transforms you from a victim into a persecutor? These are the questions that linger throughout Wyder’s film, which gradually goes from being the simple representation of a specific historical moment to a universal reflection.

The archive images used at the end of the film, which take us from the foundation of the Israeli State to the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier, are symbolic in this sense. Without once falling into rhetoric, Wyder simply takes us into the intricacies of a situation that seems never-ending: where freedom and oppression are two sides of the same terrible coin. This is a lucid and strong film which deserves to finally be shown to the general public.

Dawn is a co-production between Switzerland, Israel, Germany and the United Kingdom. The film is being distributed worldwide by Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion.