Dolce Fine Giornata: Meaty European Drama a Feast for Thinkers and Adults

By Liam Lacey

Rating: B+

There aren’t a lot of well-crafted, complex grown-up dramas in the movie houses these days, which is reason enough to recommend Dolce Fine Giornata (Sweet End of Day), a film from Polish actor-turned-director Jacek Borcuch, which won a special jury prize at Sundance.


Another reason is the performance of the great Polish actress Krystana Janda (Man of Iron, Dekalog), who plays Marie Linde, a poet in her sixties, who wears fringed hair, smokes cigarettes, and follows her impulses as if the 1960s never died. So far, Marie’s done well living life the way she wants. She has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for her poetry and now, mostly retired from writing, she lives in a luxurious Tuscan farmhouse with her Italian husband, their daughter, and two grandchildren.

But comfortable doesn’t suit Marie’s restless, sensuous spirit. In an early scene, we see her at the docks, inhaling the smell of the fresh-caught fish that the local fishermen have caught. She is having a semi-secret fling with a much younger Egyptian man, Nazeer (Lorenzo de Moor), a handsome hard-working fellow who runs a beachside taverna. There’s a sense that her husband, Antonio (Antonio Catania) and adult daughter, Anna (Kasia Smutniak) have seen this kind of celebrity poetic license before. At one point, Anna tries to cautions her about her indiscreet behavior but her warnings are rejected with a hair flip and a puff of cigarette smoke.

Then, a bomb explodes. It happens in Rome, when an Islamic terrorist suicide bomber kills several people. Soon after, Marie is scheduled to receive an award from the local town’s mayor, for bringing such literary prestige to his town. Cautious Anna, always more adult than her mother, suggests this might not be a good time to accept a prize. Marie disagrees and insists on accepting the award.

The speech she makes is poetic and inflammatory. She begins by explaining that she is the child of Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors, how she came to live in Italy when martial law was imposed in Poland, and how she always looked to Europe as the upholder of the tradition of free thought. So far, so good. Then she suggests that Islamic terrorists are giving Europeans the “gift” of death in exchange for the “gift” of refugee camps.

Marie, not surprisingly, is condemned and ostracized — first locally and then everywhere when parts of her speech blow up on the Internet. The local police chief (Vince Riotta), initially patient about her speeding infractions, grows increasingly antipathetic when she refuses to qualify or recant on her remarks or recognize their consequences.

His anger isn’t personal; his half-Sicilian son is beaten by thugs who think the boy is North African. Elsewhere, radical groups online are quoting her as validation. Nazeer also suffers from the wave of anti-Arab sentiment in the wake of the bombing. Eventually, even her tolerant family begin to see her as toxic.

Dolce Fine Giortana can seem heavy-handed, especially in an over-obvious concluding scene representing the far-right term “Fortress Europe.” But the bluntness is tempered by complexity of Janda’s multi-faceted performance, as an attractive, exasperating, and often unsympathetic character. Marie becomes a kind of test case of our own limits of tolerance.

Like his Polish countryman Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War, Ida), Borcuch makes films that remind us of Europe of the not-so-distant past; a Europe of barbed wire and iron curtains, and show trials, even if it is set under the modern Tuscan sun.

Dolce Fine Giordana. Directed by Jacek Borcuch. Written by Jacek Borcuch and Szcepan Twardock. Starring Krystyna Janda, Robin Rinucci, Antonio Catania, Vincent Riotta, Lorenzo de Moor. Opens October 11 at Toronto’s the TIFF Bell Lightbox.