By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
From writer/director László Nemes, the filmmaker who made the critically acclaimed of Saul, comes a different type of story that follows a female protagonist during an era of much prejudice and sexism. The appropriately titled Sunset is a historical drama that entails a lost woman’s quest to her place in society. Though the film has some great performances by its cast, Nemes’s directorial choices and the cinematography by Mátyás Erdély often distract from what is essentially a compelling story. These distractions and hindrances are obviously deliberate, but prove to be the film’s undoing.
Juli Jakab stars as Írisz Leiter, an orphaned young lady who wishes to learn more about her deceased parents who ince owned a high class millinery (hat) shop. The setting is 1913 Budapest and Europe is about a year away from World War I. This is the era of the Austro-Hungarian empire and there exists much prejudice by the Austrian upper class against the more impoverished Hungarians. Upon reaching adulthood, Írisz returns to the business her family once owned merely in search of a job.
The shop which is now under Austrian owner Oszkár Brill (Vlad Ivanov) a man not to pleased with Írisz’s visit. Still, the snobbish proprietor reluctantly hires her and allows her to reside in a squalid residence nearby. Though Brill and his associates treat Írisz with minimal courtesy, there is a noticeable hint of hate and resentment. When rumors start circulating that Írisz has a half brother who works as a revolutionary criminal, the lost and frustrated young woman seeks him out.
Nemes, who co-wrote the script with Clara Boyer and Matthieu Taponier, could have succeeded in making a thoroughly engrossing and riveting film had he and cinematographer Erdély not made such poor choices regarding the visual presentation. First of all, the movie us so poorly lit that in the night scenes it is hard to make out what is actually happening. Also Erdély’s cinematography is so tight and claustrophobic that it also is a major distraction. I feel that the filmmakers chose this technique to build tension, but.it comes off as annoying cheap trick.
That said, the writers have created and developed a solid and interesting story that had the potential of being more powerful and inspirational. In addition, the cast members all perform well with newcomer Juli Jakab delivering a impressive turn as the lead. Sunset also features great work by Vlad Ivanov, Evelin Dobos, and Levente Molnár.
Sunset is one of those films which I feel deserves to be remade. Now, I don’t mean an English version necessarily. However, perhaps fifteen or twenty years from now, another director could tackle this story and present it in a way it deserves. I have nothing against unsual or experimental cinematography techniques, but they must enhance the story and overall experience. The work here does quite the opposite.