If you've ever doubted that it's always darkest before the dawn, "Daybreak," a corrosive drama from Sweden, will have no trouble convincing you. Even by the standards of a country whose cinema has always been at home on the edge of desperation, "Daybreak's" collection of stories about people agonizing through the longest night of their lives offers an extremely grim view of the human condition. Yes, the dawn finally breaks, both actually and metaphorically but it takes its own sweet time getting there.
Written and directed by Björn Runge, a filmmaker not known in this country, "Daybreak" is strongly acted by a highly competent ensemble led by Pernilla August, an award-winner for starring in Bille August's "The Best Intentions," as Agnes.
Agnes' story is one of a trio of narratives united by characters who are either quietly or not so quietly furious. Consumed by grudges and recriminations, these bitter, distraught, unsatisfied people are going to go through hell — taking us with them — in an attempt to learn what is important in life.
Agnes' surgeon husband, Rickard (Jakob Eklund), is told just as "Daybreak" begins that he's not getting a big medical job he thought was his because of unspecified moral deficiencies that we learn a great deal about as the film progresses. There's no time to dwell on this immediately, however, because the couple's best friends, Sofie (Marie Richardson) and Mats (Leif Andrée), are coming over for what turns into a long night of lacerating revelations.
Also headed for an extended night's work is bricklayer Anders (Magnus Krepper), who is so obsessed with taking off-the-books jobs to pay for things he thinks his wife and daughter want that he is in danger of permanently alienating their affections.
Anders spends his hours working for a survivalist couple who want him to brick them into their house so the menacing outside world can't intrude. "What we call civilization is completely falling apart," the husband insists, an attitude that the film posits might become a reality if we're not careful.
Even in this corrosive group, Anita (Ann Petrén) stands out for the lacerating nature of her vitriol. Still bitterly furious at ex-husband Olof (Peter Andersson) over leaving her for a younger woman years ago, she decides to pay the happy pair a little unannounced visit and see if she can stir the pot just a bit.
"Daybreak" handles these situations without flinching, but unless you're looking for an extreme Swedish version of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," the prospect of spending time with these folks is not exactly inviting. Vituperation can be cleansing, but only in smaller doses than the ones offered up here.
MPAA rating: R for language including sexual references
An Auto Images production, released by Newmarket Films. Director Björn Runge. Producer Clas Gunnarsson. Writer Björn Runge. In Swedish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 48 mins.Exclusively at the Landmark Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A. (310) 281-8223.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times