Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) comes looking for a job in her family’s hat shop but they’ve already filled it. When she learns she may have had a long lost brother, she sticks around trying to find him.
Director Laszlo Nemes’ Son Of Saul was an intense new take on the Holocaust locked onto a single protagonist. Using the exact same technique in another story makes it feel like Nemes is a one trick pony and dilutes the power of that technique. I’m all for exploring new applications of a signature technique, but Sunset stretches it too thin.
Sunset is also 35 minutes longer than Saul. Let’s call it “more sprawling,” but perhaps having a larger canvas also makes it too repetitive. Saul was confined to a concentration camp. Irisz can go anywhere she likes, and following her makes it feel like a lot of shoe leather, as they call it.
Like Saul, the camera stays on Irisz back as she meets people and walks through scenes. Even though the frame is 1.85:1 (Saul was Academy ratio 1.37:1, making it even more jarring in modern cinema), you can still feel it’s the same claustrophobic POV. She turns around more often so we see her face, but it seems like she discovers a lot less about her family. Discoveries are few and far between so we’re often following her aimlessly.
The establishment keeps trying to get rid of Irisz and she won’t leave. So she’s tenacious, I’ll give her that. Her quest just doesn’t go anywhere except for persistence in a society that would like to bury it in the past. It’s a bit less accessible than a man looking for his son in a finite space. Also, not enough hat making montages.
I’m not going to give up on Nemes just for one misstep. I’m sure there’s a lot more life in his technique, as well as different signature techniques he might develop in future films. Sunset is a sophomore slump but the lessons of this misstep might just make his next film stronger.