Film Review: The Shine of Day

German-language drama features little action but much bittersweet reflection.

There is nothing remarkable about The Shine of Day, and its filmmakers are just fine with that. Italian-born Tizza Covi and Austrian-born Rainer Frimmel (the co-directors of four previous titles) continue their transition from photography and the documentary realm to “fictional” storytelling, yet maintain their clear-eyed, observational style and, until the last reel of their latest opus, never seem concerned about creating or manufacturing drama for its own sake.

In Covi and Frimmel’s screenplay (co-written with Xaver Bayer), an elderly circus performer named Walter (real-life circus performer Walter Saabel) shows up on the doorstep of the nephew he has never known, an actor named Philipp (played by well-known Austrian actor Philipp Hochmair). The meeting leads to Philipp inviting his uncle to stay with him and the two men get acquainted with each other over the following days. Walter hopes to reunite with his brother, Philipp’s father, but that event never occurs, and Philipp learns about his troubled family history, including the fact that his father and Walter are actually half-brothers.

Eventually, Walter and Philipp’s new friendship becomes strained, but they try to overcome their differences. Later, while Philipp is moving from city to city and theatre to theatre to perform in several plays at once, Walter comes to care for Philipp’s neighbor’s two children. When Walter discovers that the children’s mother is stranded in Moldavia, he develops an elaborate plan to get her out and bring her home, but he depends on Philipp to help him.

Minimal as the story sounds, The Shine of Day reveals many complexities. The filmmakers achieve this effect through their naturalistic dialogue and shooting style. Even when Walter and Philipp discuss the difference between their philosophies of what constitutes “the shine of day” (the beatific moments in their lives), there is nothing forced or overly intellectual about the conversation. (Eric Rohmer would have been proud of this particular scene, shot in one traveling long take by Frimmel, the film’s cinematographer.) Credit is also due to the principal actors, playing variations of themselves—never an easy task—without any self-consciousness or false business.

The only drawback comes late in the story, as mentioned earlier, when Walter attempts to save the neighbor’s wife from some sort of entrapped situation. By tacking on a bit of melodrama at this late point in the film, The Shine of Day loses its focus before its abrupt ending. Though the characters demonstrate growth while maintaining the essence of their core selves, this last part of the film could have been handled in much more meaningful way.