As much as we wish it would…lightening simply doesn’t strike twice all that often…
From Writer/Director László Nemes, Sunset mimics a lot of the unique shooting style that made Nemes’ previous film Son of Saul so devastatingly brilliant. Problem is that this time out it just doesn’t work.
It’s the year 1913, Budapest, in the heart of Europe. The young Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) arrives in the Hungarian capital with high hopes to work as a milliner at the legendary hat store that belonged to her late parents. She is nonetheless sent away by the new owner, Oszkár Brill (Vlad Ivanov). While preparations are under way at the Leiter hat store, to host guests of uttermost importance, a man abruptly comes to Irisz, looking for a certain Kálmán Leiter. Refusing to leave the city, the young woman follows Kálmán’s tracks, her only link to a lost past. Her quest brings her through the dark streets of Budapest, where only the Leiter hat store shines, into the turmoil of a civilization on the eve of its downfall.
There’s no doubting that Nemes is an unquestioned talent behind the camera as he crafts an exceptional looking film but the chaos that he throws up on the screen in Sunset inspires too much head scratching and tedium in an effort that just plays out far too chaotically.
The film follows the similar style as Nemes’ previous film did and there is an incredibly self assured sense of style to it all, but style has to fit the narrative and here it just doesn’t. The story is more than a little disjointed as it throws a lot of different characters and ever changing plot narratives at the screen to make it all feel just a little chaotic. It’s a bold film, but when there’s so much going on it’s hard to make any kind of emotional connection to the characters and that is where the film really suffers from beginning to end. We just don’t care what happens to any of these people, we’re just distracted by Nemes’ and his over the shoulder shooting which feels manufactured here and never quite works. It’s the old square peg in a round hole problem and we get too much repeated from his very well regarded debut feature. It’s proof positive that you can fall victim to the ‘sophomore slump’ in many different walks of life because while the time period he is recreating is one filled with upheaval, but we’re still supposed to find a way to work our way through it as an audience, and it just isn’t there.
Juli Jakab is solid in the lead but is asked to carry far too much in the story and even she gets lost in the chaos of this film. We never find a reason to get invested in her tale and the material never gives her a chance to break through in the material. Vlad Ivanov as Oszkár Brill is the only other character to get any significant screen presence and while he’s comes through with a decent performance we are too drowned in Nemes’ oblique styling’s to really get behind it all.
Sunset will have its champions to be sure, but it simply tries too hard to do far too much and while we’ll look forward to Nemes’ next effort, he needs to scale it back for it to be something truly memorable like Son of Saul was.