Film Review: SUNSET (Napszallta)(Hungary 2018) ***1/2

Sunset Poster

A young girl grows up to become a strong and fearless woman in Budapest before World War I.


László Nemes


László NemesClara Royer (co-writer) | 1 more credit »

SUNSET, Hungary’s Academy Award entry for the Best Foreign Language Film 2019 is a lavishly mounted production with great attention to detail in dialogue as well as production sets, wardrobe, hair and yes, hats.  One problem of the hair is that Leiter has the perfect curls throughout the film.  The story protagonist is the daughter of the original owners of a established well-successful hat shop in Budapest.  When the film opens, Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) arrives at the hat shop seeking employment as a milliner, but is turned down.

Director and co-writer of the script Names already won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2016 for his Jewish concentration camp drama, SON OF SAUL.  Watching SUNSET immediately brings to mind the similarities of both films despite its different settings.  What is most notable is Nemes’ fondest of keeping the camera at neck level of his main character and the story unfolds as if seen from the character’s point of view.  In SUNSET, the camera also reveals, while at neck level, Leiter’s collar of her period dress as well as her hair and of course, stunning hat.  Every line of dialogue appears to be carefully written with subtle innuendoes often found in many of them.  This technique does get tiresome after a while.  Clues to the story and Leiter’s history are also revealed in the dialogue.  Example: when Leiter tells a stranger who inquires the reason of her sadness, she says: “I just got turned down from a job at the hat company.”  “That is not the only hat company in town,” is his reply to which she retorts: “But it is the only one with my name on it.”  The film’s best line: “the horrors of the world (at the brink of the first world war) hides behind these infinitely pretty things (referring to the hats).

The story is set in thriving Budapest in the early 1920s.  It is before the first world war when the Austro-Hungarian was the centre of Europe.  Besides the wealth on display in Budapest, poverty still exists.  When Leiter returns to her boarding house after being rejected from her job, she is told she is returning to dust and bed bugs.

The story is about Leiter leaving the orphanage and finding out the secrets of her family.  Leiter was put in the orphanage at the age of 2 after her parents’ death.  She does not remember anything.  She learns of a  brother, who had committed crime and now presumed gone into hiding.  Her re-appearance at the hat shop generates fears and memories of her brother’s evil deed.  But Leiter is determined to learn the truth surrounding her brother and keeps inquiring despite very bad vibes from those she asks.

The twist in the story occurs around the half way mark in the two-hour over film.

For what the film is worth, the period atmosphere and setting are extremely well done.  The narrative fails to satisfy in what would have resulted in an outstanding film.


Movie Review: SON OF SAUL (2015, Hungary)

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son_of_saul_posterSON OF SAUL (Hungary 2015) ***

Directed by Laszlo Nemes

Review by Gilbert Seah

SON OF SAUL, this year’s Cannes Grand Jury Prize Winner might not be the film for everyone. Lazlo Neme’s film has no narrative, is minimal in structure and is difficult to follow in terms of logic or story. But still, it is a gruesome watch.

Nemes’ film, with cinematographer Matyas Erdely, like the Dardennes Brothers filming with a hand held camera about head level on the side of the protagonist following him using a protagonist’s-eye view makes all the action feel more real.

The protagonist is part of a squad in a Holocaust concentration camp with the duty of herding in the prisoners for gassing and then cleaning up. As the titles indicate, they too will normally have their turn (being gassed) after a few weeks. The hero sees a boy that survives the gassing but consequently killed.

He takes it upon himself to find a Rabbi to say the prayers for the boy at all costs. This is where the film fails in terms of credibility. He is able to find a Rabbi, not get caught, find all the right connections and keeps the boy’s body – all a bit too much to believe.

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