For the Well-Caffeinated: SUNSET

Sunset (2019) / Directed by László Nemes / Starring Juli Jakab / 142 minutes

Inscrutable, suffocating, a hall of mirrors, there probably isn’t enough Coca Cola or Mr. Pibb in existence to fuel one’s attention level for this film.

For the entire two-hour-plus running time, we smother our main character, Irisz, by buzzing around her in a tight, constantly moving close-up, first behind her, then in front of her, circling around her like an irritating insect. In spite of our bee-like, sycophantic proximity, Irisz remains undistracted. All the while she remains resolute, focused on some far-off, off-screen objective, and our invasive nearness is ignored. The lasting effect of this cinematography–hand-held, often dimly lit (“naturally lit”)–is disquieting, but through this constricting style, Nemes, the director who last gave us SON OF SAUL, does convey a certain experience, that’s for sure.

Irisz, rarely speaking, in the story is like a pinball, propelled from one class of Budapestian society to another, gaining access to private matters seemingly by being at the right place at the right time. Sure, she is active, but purely by moving and silence, rather than spoken machination or some outright act of assault. Maybe her famous name is her entreé? The final moments of the film make it clear she has been the catalyst of these terrible events more than anything else.

I would predict that seeing SUNSET will not be an experience for the average audience member. For those that do take up the gauntlet, perhaps superlative caffeination will allow a greater understanding of this missing-brother yarn than I was able to glean. But, then, being well-caffeinated is kind of a dictum for life these days, isn’t it?