Ocean sounds. The inside of a house. Figures can be made out in the dark – barely moving. While they read or calmly lie on beds only the moon sheds light on them. In her first short fiction film, At Dawn, Portuguese director Inês de Lima Torres creates dim and mysterious images fabricating a poetic ambiance.

At Dawn was previously shown in the National Competition at this year’s IndieLisboa and was now screened during the 16th International Film Student Meeting. Alongside international film students, the young Portuguese director presented her work in the framework of the 65th San Sebastián International Film Festival.

It is the summer holiday and two sisters and their youngest brother spend moments of leisure at their grandmother’s place at the coast. Just wasting time in the heat, we see bodies linger on beds, groping through the book shelfs, and rummaging through collected items in boxes in the house.

With co-author Bernardo Candeias (Writings on the Edge), de Lima Torres reveals little and merely hints to a narrative in her experimental mood piece. Only a conversation on the phone between the oldest girl and her mother half way through the film confirm the nature of the sibling's stay in the house. It is an uneventful summer vacation with their grandmother with strolls along the beach.

But throughout the film, the editing and the somber moods create suspense. The lightning conditions never allow for it to turn to bright daylight. Something unspoken of lurks in every corner of this house which remains hidden within the realm of warm and dark tones. And the soundscape of breaking waves joined by cicadas by night and flies by day add to the monotonous feel. With the rhythm of the days rippling, the nights bring out mysterious creatures. A big snake curls along at the bottom of the stairs. It glistens in the small patches of light. Memories of the house come to life herein, it seems: A shot of a picture portraying a soldier is followed by a dark figure of a man slowly walking up the stairs. And as you feel every cut you become more and more certain that by all means: the story is not fit for any other language but film. You have to see it, in order to feel it.

The soldier is also frequently returned to in the stories the children tell each other and articles they find in the house. It is a reference to colonisation and more over to the initial temptation by setting out for an unknown land. The soldier in the stories is one of those which never returned and is slowly forgotten with the vanishing of his traces in memory.

Inês de Lima Torres creates a time capsule that stretches over long and hot summer days in a place that seems to hold on to the last people left on this patch of land. At Dawn is a piece on the questions of staying or leaving, of the past and present and the memories that remain and those which are almost forgotten but can be dug up once more.

Film Information
Original Title: De Madrugada
Director: Inês de Lima Torres
Country: Portugal
Year: 2017
Run Time: 30 mins


09 November 2017, by Sabine Kues