László Nemes’s Son of Saul didn’t take the world by storm a few years back, but rather it was a wind that picked up speed, a force that never relented until its presence was felt by serious film lovers everywhere. Now the award winning director is back with his follow-up effort, Sunset (Napszállta in Hungarian), which is already tipped as Hungary’s Oscar entry in the Best Foreign Film category. The film is also making the rounds at prestigious festivals, including The Venice Film Festival, where it had its premier, and has been released locally to laudatory reviews.
The film tells the story of a pre-World War One milliner named Irisz Leiter, who returns to her hometown of Budapest in hopes of getting hired at the hat shop that bears her name. Though turned away, she is propelled on a quest to search for her long lost brother, a dangerous man who disappeared under suspicious circumstances. The film, which takes place in 1913, was primarily shot in Budapest, and makes use of the city’s haunting but elegent pre-war architecture, a setting that, while old, never gets old on the screen.
While Sunset may be a period piece, the director says that he is eager to have the story be relevant to modern times. “History is not on another planet, history is now, so I didn’t want to make a conventional historical movie on a postcard level,” he related to a reporter at the Venice Film Festival. He went on to praise the Juli Jakob, the who plays the lead, and who also had a small but crucial role in Son of Saul. It is clear that the film has a strong narrative drive, and shows off a good deal of visual texture. Mátyás Erdély’s cinematography is lauded in may reviews, which is no surprise, given his work on Son of Saul. Daily Variety writes: “Mátyás Erdély’s 35mm camera impresses with bravura agility, wandering through the impressive sets with Kubrickian urgency…”
Elsewhere, the Hollywood Reporter says “Sunset is an impressive piece of filmmaking, and from a technical point of view it stirs memories of the boldly shot Hungarian cinema revival of the 1960s…” while the Guardian says “Nemes shoots the city in bleached-out colours, a kind of sepia style, and Budapest is brought to life as if in one of the picture postcards of the era....An entirely absorbing film.”
While the reviews have not been as uniformly ecstatic as they were for Son of Saul, it is hard to compete with a film that was so immediately iconic and important. This is a film with a broader canvas, but no less urgent a story. We wish it luck as it continues to accumulate praise and is seen by audiences worldwide.
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