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“Sunset” Is A Disappointment From László Nemes

A few years ago, filmmaker László Nemes blew festival audiences away with his Holocaust tale Son of Saul. Starting with an award winning debut at the Cannes Film Festival, the movie more or less swept the awards season, culminating in an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Feature. Nemes was immediately a new name to watch on the international cinema stage. Now, after screening a bit last year, his follow up effort Sunset hits theaters this week. Unfortunately, he’s not able to repeat the success from last time out. This is a definite letdown of an experience and a real big disappointment. Alas.

The film is a drama set in Budapest during the year 1913, before World War I would devastate Europe. When Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) first arrives in the Hungarian capital, she aims to work at a special hat store that once belonged to her late parents. Despite the desire to become a milliner, Irisz is dismissed by Oszkár Brill (Vlad Ivanov), the new owner of the shop. Soon after, a mysterious man comes to her, hoping for help in finding a relative of hers. This sets off a dramatic search that will help to make Irisz into a whole new woman. The aforementioned László Nemes directs and co-writes with Clara Royer and Matthieu Taponier here. The rest of the cast includes Judit Bárdos, Marcin Czarnik, Benjamin Dino, Evelin Dobos, János Kulka, Levente Molnár, Susanne Wuest, and more. Nemes again had László Melis (who passed away last February) compose the score, while returning collaborator Mátyás Erdély provided the cinematography. It looks and sounds good, that’s for sure. If only the rest of the flick matched up to that.

Nemes is unable to recapture the magic that made Son of Saul such an unforgettable affair. This, by and large, is a chore to sit through. There’s no forward momentum or narrative thrust on display. Things happen, but for the most part, you just don’t care. Juli Jakob is compelling enough to watch, but at well over two hours in length, the movie is unable to engage you in her story in any notable way. Melis’ score is solid and Erdély’s cinematography is elegant, but Nemes’ writing just isn’t up to snuff. The pacing never allows for this one to get off the ground.

Sunset feels like the sort of project that Nemes needed to have won the Oscar in order to have made. Why else would it get the green light? It’s decidedly old fashioned, but never finds itself in a position to translate whatever Nemes wanted to get across. It’s not even lost in translation, it’s just lost. Watching Sunset is literally like watching the sun set. It takes forever to unfold, looks good while doing it, but ultimately isn’t an especially fulfilling experience. Your mileage may vary, but for yours truly, this was a major disappointment from a filmmaker who blew everyone away his last time out.

This weekend, those of you who are willing to give Nemes a shot due solely to Son of Saul should take a look at Sunset. You likely won’t find too much to like here, but then again, you never know. Nemes may have earned enough goodwill on your part to make this worth a shot. For what it’s worth, this isn’t just me dismissing the flick. Reviews are, at best, split down the middle. How much of this is due to heightened expectations? That’s up for debate. No matter how you slice it, however, this just isn’t a particularly good movie. It’s shame to say, but it’s just the truth…

Sunset is in theaters starting on Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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