Sunset tells the story of Írisz Leiter (Juli Jakab), a grown up orphan who returns to her residence in Budapest, we first meet her in a hat shop once owned by her long-lost parents and she is not greeted whole heartedly at all.
Directed by László Nemes, who’s last film ‘Son of Saul’ won best foreign film at the Oscars. This return is a triumph, the film essentially tells the tale through a first person perspective with Írisz playing a non-conventional detective as she wades through mystery after mystery digging up more on the going’s on with her brother and Oszkár Brill (Vlad Ivanov), the man in charge of her family’s hat business.
The film demands full focus from the spectator, as the use of close ups and tracking shots are extensive. The use of focus is crucial in creating this very personal connection to Írisz as we frequently track from behind with a handheld camera. The best word to describe the film is visceral, it starts off at a rather slow pace yet as the film picks up the editing becomes quicker – however Nemes doesn’t hesitate to linger and not cut straight away, this creates a deeper sense of reality.
The film captures violence and the cruelties of some men in such a savage way, people in the audience had to look away. The sound design plays a crucial part in the build up to scenes like this as the use of heavy breathing creates a reality that seems all but ultra-realistic – as mentioned before the film is told through Írisz and this connection we feel to her is truly shown in those animalistic scenes, that have been created in such a engrossingly beautiful way.
Mátyás Erdély’s cinematography is one element of why this film works so well, it sucks us into Írisz’s world – using long takes, shot on 35mm and is backed by the incredible set design which in collaboration with the camera creates a world so real you could touch it.
The idea of spectatorship is tested as the film takes place over a few days, with us being so involved and every time Írisz walks through the horrifying violence of pre-war Budapest you are actively involved due to your feelings for her, the innocence is conveyed by Jakab’s subtle pure face – her performance is pivotal in the workings of the film. She does not say much, but expresses an entire world of information through her eyes.
The film is full of enigmas and the Írisz’s ending is a riddle, the path Írisz ventures down is one of mystery and darkness – nothing is explicitly said, but the use of symbolisation is what may hint at what really happens. A certain line near the end of the film hints at a greater idea, something more psychological that darkness hides behind things so bright and beautiful but inside a pit of growing darkness emerges.
Her family’s name is a curse, that is explicit. The idea of the metaphor that is told is truly shown in the mysterious shocking last shot of the film, that will leave your mind swirling. The beauty of the way Írisz’s story is told is of intricacy that has been extremely well thought out and you begin to see turn as she begins to embody what she once opposed near the end.
The film portrays darkness and beauty behind each veil lifted, the ambiguous nature of the narrative reels you in as you begin to create a picture of what the greater metaphors and symbolism truly embody. Nemes’s ‘Sunset’ never holds back and uncovers the evils of society in a glorious way.
Sunset/Napszállta premiered at Venice and later at Zurich Film Festival in September and Sony Pictures Classics is set to release it in cinemas