VOD film review: Sunset
James R | On 31, May 2019
Director: László Nemes
Cast: Juli Jakab, Vlad Ivanov, Levente Molnár
László Nemes announced himself as a force to be reckoned with in his astonishing debut Son of Saul. After that groundbreaking piece, Sunset struggles to make such a strong impression, as Nemes turns his camera to 1913 Budapest. Our window onto this city is Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab), who travels from Trieste to work at the famous Leiter hat shop. Once owned by her parents, who died in mysterious circumstances, the orphan’s homecoming riles the shackles of Oszkár Brill (Vlad Ivanov), the man now running the place.
Secret backstories, high fashion and a European metropolis on the brink of war? Nemes sinks his teeth into the period milieu of this costume drama, introducing threats to the decorum in the form of Gáspár (Levente Molnár), a coachman who mutters something about hidden relatives, a nasty rich man from Vienna and a rising movement of violent anarchists. They all blur together in a way that doesn’t become as clear as you’d like, but Names and his co-writers are too busy conjuring up dreamlike visuals of the Hungarian capital and soaking in the pre-WWI dread lingering in the air.
There’s wonder in Sunset’s nightmarish cityscape, and suspense in the feeling of plunging from the superficial, warmly lit beauty of millinery to the dark cobbled corners of social discontent; it’s just a shame that the plot itself doesn’t always live up to the vividly recreated atmosphere during its 140-minute runtime. Throughout, Jakab shines in a mesmerising, charismatic lead role, switching from earnest and innocent to glowering and suspicious like a Bronte or Austen heroine with added attitude. Much like Son of Saul, Nemes’ camera can’t take its eyes off her – perhaps less out of a feeling of horrifying claustrophobia and more because she’s holding this all together. Nonetheless, as we’re immersed in a sense of palpable uncertainty, Nemes confirms himself as a tailor of bewitching cinema.