Hard-working Austrian actor Phillip Hochmair (playing himself) one day gets a surprise visit from his uncle Walter (Walter Saabel, also as himself, sort of, as the two are not related in real life) whom he didn’t know about. They bond and connect and become good friends. Walter turns out to be a retired circus artist and through knowing him, Phillip starts to reevaluate his life. Then one day the two of them get involved in helping Phillip’s neighbor, whose wife is stuck in Moldavia (because she was an asylum seeker).
The Shine of Day is a movie that’s not easy to describe as it’s so unusual in terms of style, structure and plot. That is to say, if that plot description sounded strange and confusing it’s because the movie doesn’t really have much of a plot nor does it try very hard to. It’s mostly about two men getting to know each other and connecting and having philosophical conversations about the meaning of life and such. The title refers to what it is that’s best about life, what makes life worth living. In a conversation the two men have Walter says to Phillip that the “Shine of day” to him is catching a big fish and then letting it go which Phillip just doesn’t understand (and possibly never will).
According to co-director Tizza Covi (the other director is Rainer Frimmel) at the Q&A for the film the movie was largely improvised and based in reality, with the actors playing themselves (and, save for Phillip, all of them are amateurs), even the Moldavian immigrants, and much of what is being said or done in the movie is based in reality (like when Walter tells stories of his circus years, those are real stories). This possibly helps explaining the unusual power The Shine of Day has to it. It’s really hard to describe what exactly it is that makes the movie work, it simply has a certain looseness and trueness to it that feels refreshing and real. It’s a glimpse of life but artfully done. It’s not exactly stylish but the filmmakers manage to build up a lovely atmosphere with simple camera movements and placements. The movie has many lovely quiet moments, like the opening scene where Phillip is in a photo booth taking pictures of himself in character for a play.
But The Shine of Day evades greatness due to its immigrant subplot. It’s easy to see why the filmmakers added the subplot with the Moldavian immigrants, both to give Walter something to do and for Phillip to have something “real” to deal with as opposed to the countless acting gigs he’s dealing with every minute of his waking life. But it’s somehow the weakest part of the film and whenever it’s concentrating on that part it loses a bit of it’s power. It’s not really that it’s badly done, and maybe the film would just have petered out without it, but it feels like it might have been handled a little bit better as it seems slightly out-of-place compared to the rest of the movie.
But thankfully this subplot really doesn’t take over in a serious way until the final section and at the very least it’s solved in an interesting way. Otherwise The Shine of Day is a lovely little film. It has low ambitions but absolutely ends up meeting them.
Final Verdict: A unique, lovely character study/slice of life that’s full of lovely little moments and philosophical musings, not to mention superbly acted and solidly directed. It’s slightly bogged down by its need to have a plot and loses its way a tad in the final section, but overall it’s mostly pretty terrific.