Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes’ beautiful but dramatically inert historical drama Sunset is the kind of film that you keep hoping will take off into the dramatic stratosphere. Sadly it never does. It has all the period detail that you might expect or hope for in a film set during the days before WWI but none of that matters due to Nemes’ insistence on dragging the interminable goings on in the film to a mind-numbing 145 minutes. Never mind the fact that there’s barely enough story to keep the thing going for an hour, much less thirty minutes shy of the three-hour mark.
The character at the center of the film is Irisz Leiter. She’s competently played by Juli Jakab and I’ll give the film that much. At least when one considers what an unenviable task she has due to the fact that she’s given so little to do. The camera follows her as she moves around from scene to scene and set piece to set piece with nothing much happening to the character as she goes through her paces.
The most interesting things that happen in the film, from a storytelling standpoint at least, occur in the film’s early going. In the first section of the film, Irisz returns to the millinery shop that her now deceased parents once owned, a shop that still bears her last name. She begs the current owner, Oszkar Brill, to give her a job. He’s insistent on keeping his distance from her and for good reason. As the film’s story unfolds secrets are revealed that involve Oszkar and don’t necessarily put him in the best light. Only the most patient viewers, however, will be there when the film actually gets to its punchline, so to speak, which isn’t much when the viewer considers how much time was invested to get to that point.
The biggest problem is how the film’s director, Nemes, insists on substituting actual narrative with roving closeups of Irisz. I’m not sure what points he thought he might make with that approach but it wears out its welcome quite quickly and does the film no favors. It appears that there may have been a good story in the film waiting to get out but it, unfortunately, never reveals itself during the unspooling.
Sunset is not currently in release in theaters, but may be available for rental.
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