The Day Will Come

(Es kommt der Tag, Susanne Schneider, Germany/France, 2009)


This review is not about a great director (new or old), a masterpiece, or an important aesthetic breakthrough in world cinema. It concerns a film that, to tell the truth, is actually not terribly good as a work of art or drama. But it is a film that captures or crystallises an unusual cultural trend. It is the kind of film that critics do not spend much time discussing these days, but maybe they should.


The Day Will Come is a German film I saw at a very well attended and warmly received “International Panorama” screening at the Thessaloniki Film Festival in 2009, where director Susanne Schneider also appeared. It later travelled to venues including the Melbourne Film Festival. It is scarcely different from a thousand similar “bourgeois family” dramas full of tears, recriminations and reconciliations. Except for its central, subject-matter premise: the clash of generations is based around a mother, Judith (Iris Berben), who was once a notorious anti-state terrorist (now leading a quiet, married life under a new name), and her estranged daughter, Alice (Katharina Schüttler), given to another family as a child when the mother’s terrorist cell went on the lam from the police. Now a young adult, Alice comes back looking for some kind of personal acknowledgement, or perhaps even revenge.


This kind of “terrorist family melodrama” has become a staple of international cinema since at least Sidney Lumet’s intense Running On Empty (1988). A strange genre that has had its good, complex moments, like Christian Petzold’s The State I’m In (2000) scripted by Harun Farocki, or a marvellous, Terrence Malick-style screenplay called The Monkey Wrench Gang adapted from Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel, which Dennis Hopper (among a score of other rumoured auteur names) was once slated to direct, but has yet to emerge in any form. [Postscript: Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves (2013) bears some vague resemblance to The Monkey Wrench Gang, and its producers were in fact threatened with an ultimately unsuccessful legal action from Edward R. Pressman Film company, owner of rights to the novel.]


The Day Will Come, however, has a simple, conservative project: it shows a presumed normal, sensible, righteous generation of modern, young people bringing their wayward left-wing parents from the 1960s and ‘70s to the bar of truth and justice. Not only did these parents rob banks, blow up corporate sites or (usually inadvertently) kill a few innocent bystanders; they also committed the worst sin of all: they neglected their children! They never gave them a stable home environment! (Sometimes, as in Running on Empty, the kids have been on the run with the family all their lives.) They never accompanied these tender, innocent, apolitical creatures to their first day at school, or prepared them for their first date!


It is intriguing to observe how this politico-moral fable for our times – which targets everything from ideological fanaticism to the irrational fear of home schooling – conjugates two currently popular narrative film-forms. The first form is a certain Biblical, indeed Old Testament, sense of thundering ethics, captured in the very fatalistic titles of The Day Will Come or There Will Be Blood (2007). The second form is more surprising in this context, because it derives from the politically impeccable Dardennes: like the Belgian brothers’ brilliant tale of a father facing his son’s killer (The Son, 2002), we are seeing today a wave of films in which an emblematic confrontation of two characters (usually of different generations) – drawn out with all the suspense that a quasi-thriller plot and a close-up, hand-held camera can give – serves also as a wish-fulfilment scenario about putting the world right, setting the state of things back into its proper place and balance.


I hope my sophisticated readers will forgive an ultimate spoiler: when the day comes in Schneider’s film, the mother will tearily wave goodbye to her triumphant (and also crying, but now proud) daughter, and turn herself over to the cops. It was meant to be a happy ending, but I was fuming.

© Adrian Martin February/July 2010

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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