I’ve put off seeing this a couple of times, not sure that I really want to devote my evening to a 2 1/2 film synchronized into German, by him who did Son of Saul (which I missed, but was by all accounts, pretty intense).
So what’s it all about? On a superficial level, it’s about Irisz, a milliners’ daughter who returns to her parents shop and learns untold secrets about the brother she didn’t know she had. Also, it’s about hats. Lots of hats. On another level, please don’t ask me for a plot summary, because I spent large amounts of time wondering what on earth was going on.
For all that, its brilliantly filmed, even if 90% of the shots seem to be of the back of Irisz’s neck (there’s a basic form-content dilemma in the whole of the film where the fact that we are often literally seeing things from Irisz’s POV means that we are rarely told what’s happening. Which may be fine for people who are more attentive than me, but didn’t do much to ease my general confusion).
Many of the scenes are filmed in the twilight (or, if you will, at the time of Sunset) which provides ample opportunity for sumptuous landscapes, suitably lit by fires or gaslight or indeed the torch flames of a baying mob. Which all looks somewhat marvellous.
There is a lot of plot, while at the same time there’s not much that we can pin down. We glide through high class dances and fetes and the backstreets of the dark end of town, without really stopping to think where we are and how this is different to a similar scene 2 hours ago. If you’re prepared to lie back and let it wash over you I guess the lack of general coherence doesn’t really matter, but to be honest my patience isn’t what it was.
One scene jars, though, even if, like the rest of the film it is beautifully shot. There is a coda at the end which winks ostentatiously at you saying, “maybe the whole thing is a metaphor, and the title Sunset has another meaning” (no plot spoilers required if you just think that the film is set in Budapest in 1913). In a sense, fair enough, but it seems to be used as a justification for the preceding chaos – “it may be that many of the scenes so far don’t make much sense, but hey the world didn’t make much sense at the time” which has a deeply unsatisfying effect.
Summary: the visuals alone are enough to make it with while, but a good editor who could tighten the content and cut an extraneous 45 minutes could have made it great. Next time, maybe