Dalibor Matanić – Zora / The Dawn (Nightmarish Trauma Symbol Film)


I’ve seen some deep films over the years, but I’m not sure I was expecting something quite like what I got out of The Dawn. Croatian film has been largely under the radar after the end of the Yugoslav “Black Wave” movement, the echoes of which continue to reverberate internationally. With the fall of Soviet power and the supposedly inevitable ethnic meltdown that led to the Yugoslav Wars, countries formally part of Yugoslavia found their cinema sinking in relative obscurity. Directed by Dalibor Matanić, The Dawn is part of the old and the new as it takes a largely nightmarish approach to its story of trauam. The basic plot revolves around Matija and Ika (played by Tihana Lazović of recent Aleksi fame), whose loss of a son has collapsed into an emotional cemetery. Left with two children, and living in an isolated valley where a mysterious “them” looms in the background, they wrestle with emotional anguish as the family structure breaks down in the most bizarre of ways.


At first it would seem to be a simple coding of ethnic diversity in the region, but The Dawn is an abstract investigation of emotional trauma where the characters are either unwilling to or incapable of change. The difficulty is Matanić’s characters do not reveal much of their interior worlds, it is primarily coded in grotesque physicality, leaving a heavy amount of symbolism for the viewer to decipher. Certain moments suggest a supernatural presence, and the incorporation of modern music in Black Wave style adds a peculiar climax that leaves the average viewer likely confused and wrestling for meaning, primarily because connecting with the characters is difficult, as they will, at times, seem like a nightmare come to life instead of human beings expressing their innermost feelings. Within The Dawn, however, is a complex look at human suffering intertwined with conflicts of loss, religious differences, city versus country, and ethnicity that should please the deep thinker in you.


Written by Stanley, Devourer of Souls

The Dawn (2021, US, HBO)
Dalibor Matanić
4.1 / 5