Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Movie Review: Sunset

Sunset **** ½ / *****
Directed by: László Nemes.
Written by: László Nemes and Clara Royer and Matthieu Taponier.
Starring: Juli Jakab (Írisz Leiter), Evelin Dobos (Zelma), Vlad Ivanov (Oszkár Brill), Levente Molnár (Gaspar), Judit Bárdos (Szeréna), Susanne Wuest (The Princess), Julia Jakubowska (Countess Rédey), Marcin Czarnik (Sándor), Christian Harting (Otto von König), Uwe Lauer (The Colonel), Péter Fancsikai (Robert),
Dusán Vitanovics (Balkó), Dorottya Moldován (Lili), Balázs Czukor (Nulla), Sándor Terhes (Braun), Benjamin Dino (Andor), Tamás Fodor (Izidor), Tamara Dózsa (Fanni Braun).
László Nemes’ stunning debut film, Son of Saul (2015) was one of the most acclaimed debuts of the decade – winning the Grade Jury Prize at Cannes along with a Foreign Language Film Oscar, and a host of other awards – immediately establishing Nemes as a major new filmmaker – and the biggest discovery to come out of Hungarian film since Bela Tarr. His follow-up, Sunset, has received a more muted reaction since debuting at the Venice Film Festival last fall – and yet, I cannot quite figure out why. It’s a stunning achievement for Nemes – an even better film than Son of Saul, although clearly a more difficult one to parse, and one perhaps without the immediate emotional impact of Son of Saul – which may explain why it hasn’t received quite the reaction of that film. And yet, I think the film is an absolute stunner – a film that for nearly two and half hours keeps up a hypnotic style and pace, and never really lets up. It’s a film that demands your attention – and rewards it. Son of Saul established Nemes as a great filmmaker – and Sunset more than confirms it.
The film is set in 1913 Budapest –and stars Juli Jakub as Irisz Leiter – a young woman of about 20 returning to what was once her parents hat store. When she was just 2, the store burned down, her parents killed, and she was sent off to live far away, where she trained to be a milliner. Now, she wants a job at the store that still bares her parents name – but nothing else. The new owner, Brill (Vlad Ivanov) and his assistant Zelma (Evelin Dobos) try and shoo her away – it’s the store’s 30th Anniversary, and they have daily events for the next week, and they do not want her to get in the way. And yet, no matter how often they try and get rid of her – she refuses to leave. She doesn’t trust that they are being honest with her – and she shouldn’t – and she starts hearing rumors and whispers about a brother she never knew she had – a brother who became a murderer, and has gone into hiding. As Irisz continues to dig, she keeps finding darker and darker secrets – and never quite the ones she thinks she will discover. The film seemingly climaxes at the 90-minute mark, only to reset itself and do something similar again – this time, with the royal family involved.
Nemes uses the same style he used in Son of Saul – mainly focusing his camera (the brilliant cinematography is once again by Matyas Erdely) on Irisz’ face throughout the film – keeping the background somewhat out of focus and hard to see. In Son of Saul, he uses a boxier aspect ratio – keeping the horror of the Holocaust just out of sight by omni-present throughout – the sound design of that film was brilliant, as it is here. This time though, he uses widescreen cinematography much in the same style however – keeping that background blurred and out of focus, and yet you feel the chaos, the violence there right behind her – often yet hiding behind the pleasant façade of the hat store, or other places she uses. Jakub delivers a brilliant performance here – which is remarkably given how little she seems to be doing. She never smiles, never breaks in the film – but it’s a subtle, quiet, powerful performance – one that nonetheless, telegraphs the fear, the anxiety that teams all around her.
The film is basically a nightmare you can never quite put your finger on throughout its runtime. Why does everything seem so dark, so terrifying, so oppressively dense. Viewers with a better understanding of Hungarian history will probably be better able to parse the allegorical nature of the story that Nemes alludes to throughout - and kind of explains in the film’s final shot. And yet, the films work remarkably well even if you don’t understand that at all – and the nightmare is inexplicable. This is a directorial tour-de-force from Nemes – who outdoes his own impressive debut with this masterwork.

No comments:

Post a Comment