- Demetrios Matheou
- 27 May 2019
László Nemes follows his Oscar-winning debut with another supremely confident film set in 1913 Budapest
With Son of Saul, the Hungarian writer-director László Nemes not only won an Oscar with his very first feature, but created one of the definitive Holocaust dramas. It was a staggering achievement; but how on earth do you follow it? If there was any pressure, it doesn't show. Sunset is another ambitious, distinctive and supremely confident film with a fairly similar dynamic, as it follows a young woman searching for her brother in a city that is a powder keg of revolt.
It's 1913. Budapest is a gleaming capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, yet only a year from war. The enigmatic Írisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) arrives in town, seeking work at the renowned hat shop that her late parents founded, years before. But new owner Oszkár Brill (Vlad Ivanov) is none too pleased that the namesake has returned. As he turns her away, Írisz learns of an older brother she never knew she had, who recently disappeared in controversial circumstances, and determines to find him.
What follows is an atmospheric mystery that plays at times like a warped fairytale, involving a 'slaughtered count', his distraught widow, shady insurrectionists and a disturbing pact between Brill and the aristocracy.
Shooting in 35mm, Nemes and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély repeat their immersive approach from Son of Saul, using shallow focus and a mobile camera to keep the attention squarely on their main character. And, with her broad face and intense eyes, Jakab (who had a memorable cameo in the earlier film) is amazingly watchable, lending this story much of its urgency.
It's gorgeously shot and designed, offering a powerful sense of place – from the ornate interiors to the bustle of the dusty thoroughfares and the seedy menace of secret meeting places. The style may be disorientating at times, preventing certain characters from making an impact but, for the most part, it's fascinating, thrilling, intoxicating. A coda in the trenches of World War One underlines the sense that we've been watching a way of life that's about to self-destruct.
Selected release from Fri 31 May.