SSIFF 2021 review: Between Two Dawns (Selman Nacar)

“A dark and harrowing tale about the extent to which some will use the shortcomings of bureaucracy to escape responsibility, Between Two Dawns is a powerful testament to the importance of pursuing the truth and taking accountability, regardless of the consequences.”

In a textile factory somewhere in working-class Turkey, one of the employees uses a faulty machine without taking the appropriate precautions and suffers a major injury that places him in hospital. The responsibility to ensure that he is safe and is given the resources to recover falls on the factory owners, who feel the burden of not only making sure their worker recuperates for the sake of his job and family, but also since they would be at fault for putting him in an environment where such an event can happen. The most strain is taken by Kadir (Mücahit Koçak), the son of the factory’s owner, who is in turn slowly taking the reins. An ethical and decent man who does not want harm to come to anyone, he struggles to reconcile his own empathy for his critically injured employee with the pressures of his colleagues, who view this event as nothing more than an administrative issue that needs to be resolved – but when it becomes clear the accident was far more severe than they expected, and the consequences greater than they anticipated, Kadir is faced with some severe challenges, both legally and psychologically.

Between Two Dawns is an impressive film, a passionate and heart-wrenching social drama that tells its story with a fervent conviction that hints at director Selman Nacar’s promise as one of the most exciting young voices in contemporary Turkish cinema. As the title suggests, the film is set roughly across twenty-four hours in the life of a young man tasked with resolving a major problem, only to realize that he is a pawn in the manipulative efforts of his superiors, who use him to do their bidding in the hope that through taking the most responsibility he will receive the brunt of the punishment, should it get to that point. A dark and harrowing tale about the extent to which some will use the shortcomings of bureaucracy to escape responsibility, Between Two Dawns is a powerful testament to the importance of pursuing the truth and taking accountability, regardless of the consequences.

Throughout the film, the audience is positioned as voyeurs into the lives of these characters, as we observe the mounting tensions between the main character and various individuals with whom he has to liaise in order to get to the bottom of what caused the accident, as well as reaching a resolution that satisfies – and most importantly benefits – everyone involved. We slowly watch the tensions between the characters grow to the point where it becomes uncomfortable, since despair is the main component that propels the film forward and aids it in traversing various strata of the Turkish social system and economic divide. The film is structured as a mystery, where we are presented with a series of incidents at the start, and then find the details gradually uncovered as we are immersed deeper into the situation, learning more about everything surrounding the event and the inevitable penalties that will occur in its aftermath.

Between Two Dawns raises a variety of ethical questions about the nature of accountability. As a social realist text, the film is built on establishing the binary between right and wrong, and then subsequently blurs the boundary as we see the protagonist navigating some very hostile legal and psychological territory. He aims to do right by the victim and his family, but when confronted with the reality of the situation and the very likely consequences of actions he himself wasn’t directly responsible for, his attitude changes from doing what is right to doing what will prevent him from facing harsh punishments. As the viewer we’re put in a similar position, with Nacar provoking our own moral grounding and causing us to question what we would do if we were in such a situation – and by not providing any clear answer the film depends on our own free interpretation to determine the most moral resolution.

This film is one designed to stir conflict in the viewer, calling into question our own morality by presenting us with a protagonist who is a good man placed in an unfortunately compromising position. The film simmers with a quiet intensity that only grows more unsettling as the story unfolds, the stark and unfurnished honesty drawing us further into this disconcerting parable. The tension is palpable, especially when the director is questioning our own perspective, inviting us to think about how we would deal with such a catastrophic event, knowing the consequences that reside on the other side. It asks the eternal question whether there is any hope for humanity, not only when such events can occur, but when so many people manage to coerce their way out of atoning for their misdeeds, either finding a scapegoat or using legal loopholes to circumvent the cost of their actions. At the centre of Between Two Dawns is the story of a young man lost in a world he can’t control, forced to pay for a crime he didn’t commit, and still doing what he knows is moral above anything else, a haunting but relevant depiction of the grim realities found in our world.