Sunset (2019; László Nemes)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, April 26, at the Tower Theatre in Sacramento.
Or: The Grand Budapest Hell.
Nemes follows up his much-lauded debut film Son of Saul with this disturbing mystery set in pre-World War I Budapest. Of course, instead of the melancholy comedy of Wes Anderson, Nemes gives us a perverse, sweaty empire rotting from within.
Juli Jakab stars as Írisz, a young woman looking for work at the upscale hat store formerly owned by her deceased parents. Initially mistaken for a client, Írisz uncovers a hornet’s nest of secrets involving the store and her family. Despite several attempts by the store’s shady owner to send her away, Írisz persistently plunges herself into the belly of the beast.
Nemes reassembles the core creative team from Son of Saul, most notably cinematographer Mátyás Erdély. Once again, Erdély and Nemes compose most of the film in long, handheld tracking shots. Still, for all the complicated camera moves and armies of background actors in Sunset, the frame never wavers from the eye level of the mercurial protagonist.
As in Son of Saul, the effect is simultaneously immersive and displacing. Unfortunately, the story never engages at the gut level this time around.
At its best, Sunset recalls provocateur stylists ranging from von Trier to Tarkovsky to Visconti. More often it just feels like another long and turgid costume drama turned Best Foreign Language Film also-ran.