Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes

Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes (Hinter den Augen die Dämmerung) (2021)

Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes (Hinter den Augen die Dämmerung) first published by VODzilla.co in a much shorter version. The second half of this review contains a spoiler (about the second half of the film), which is revealable with a click for those who wish to read it.

* * *

Despite its relatively short running time of 73 minutes, Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes (Hinter den Augen die Dämmerung) is concerned with eternity – and eternal return. This is clear from the outset, because its prologue is formally entitled ‘Our Eternity In This Castle’; and because as married couple Margot (Luisa Taraz) and Dieter (Frederik von Lüttichau) explore the remote castle that Margot has just inherited, the insidious impression quickly emerges that they are trapped there and will not, perhaps ever, be able to leave; and because Margot and Dieter also seem trapped and suffocated by the toxic friction in their relationship, even if the power dynamic between them gradually shifts in its cycling modulation from brittle bickering to full-on BDSM; and because the film, though made two decades into the 21st century, resurrects and revamps very specific visual and aural mannerisms of Euro-gothic from the late 1960s, as though this cinematic past were itself never-ending. Indeed, Kevin Kopacka’s film, which he co-wrote with Lili Villányi, self-consciously seeks to break its own circle of entrapment and to find a satisfactory close to an endless, repeating battle of the sexes.

“There’s a market for everything,” says Margot, when the arrogantly dismissive Dieter suggests that nobody will want to buy the castle. Margot may as well be describing Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes itself, which comes with a rarefied appeal that definitely has its niche (me, for example). Dieter would like nothing more than to sell up and cash in on his wife’s fortune, while Margot dreams of staying and making the castle their home, even raising children there. Both know, however, that hers is an impossible dream so long as she is with Dieter, given his inability even to satisfy his wife in bed with a climax let alone give her children – and so this domineering, impotent man is a leech, not unlike the vampiric creature that he encounters in the basement. Asserting, sometimes violently, his power, Dieter drains his wife of her energy, until the tables are turned and his emasculation is graphically literalised. As all this takes place, there are cutaways to a bespectacled man observing in close-up, while a male and female voice are occasionally heard offering a choral commentary on the unfolding events and the infernal fixity of time. For Margot and Dieter’s domestic drama is being watched by ghostly presences that haunt the building, just beyond these characters’ grasp, as if from the other side of the screen. These elusive spirits are witnessing a restaging of their own circumstances, and recognising themselves in what they see.

Click here to reveal spoiler
In fact Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes is a film of two distinct, if tightly interwoven halves. For no sooner has Margot and Dieter’s story come to a nasty end, than it is revealed to have been a film-within-a-film (Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes, 1969), shot by bespectacled anti-establishment director Gregor Grause (Jeff Wilbusch) on location in the castle with a crew of hippies and hangers-on. Gregor’s assistant, co-writer and partner Eva Ziehnagel (Anna Platen) is unhappy with the ending, and so, it will turn out, is Gregor – but as, over the course of an acid-fuelled bacchanalian wrap party, Eva and Gregor argue about what improvements might be made to their film’s dénouement, and as Gregor’s eye strays to Lilith Tarenbach, the free-loving actress who played Margot, it becomes clear that Eva and Gregor have been using their cinematic collaboration to work through their own chronic problems and to find a solution. Like a castle-horror version of Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear (2020), Kopacka’s film lays out the creaky architecture and furnishings of a screenplay under construction and a film in production, all to tell and retell a familiar, recurring story of male treachery and the trap of patriarchy, re-echoing at different narrative levels.
Meanwhile the male and female ghost that appeared to be haunting the film are still present in the castle, their identities becoming clearer as they too try to find a way out of their purgatorial impasse and into the dawn of a tomorrow that may never come.

So Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes is a sophisticated reflection both upon the iniquitous relations between the genders, and upon the creative process itself, as one woman or another repeatedly pursues a resolution that will allow her to leave behind the cobwebbed clichés of the same old and to see in a new day of liberation. Like the renovation that Dieter plans to carry out to make the property saleable, this tricksy, involuted feature conjures the ghosts of cinema past for sensitive reconstruction, and finds in all these hoary tropes something beautifully styled and trippily innovative, where the fourth wall is also a mirror, refracting images of sexual betrayal ad infinitum.  

strap: Kevin Kopacka’s Sixties-styled gothic freakout stages and restages a treacherous trap of patriarchy in a retro-furnished castle

© Anton Bitel