Photo: Sony Pictures Classics
by Luke Gorham Film Horizon Line

Sunset | Laszlo Nemes

April 11, 2019

Shot on gorgeous 35mm, and in director Laszlo Nemes’s preferred close-up style (ported in from his debut feature, Son of Saul), and employing what appears to be exclusively natural light, the visceral Sunset deftly recalibrates gothic tradition in its depiction of an early 20th century European society on the precipice of collapse. Instead of applying this lens to heighten Sunset’s narrative beats, however, Nemes uses genre-specific elements (a piecemeal approach to doling out information; hushed exchanges; mysterious encounters with eccentric side characters) to craft a fevered chaos of confusion and unease.

In developing his themes, Nemes forgoes visual subtlety in favor of compositional saturation. Light and dark collide, literally and metaphorically; the action largely unfolds in lantern-lit nighttime streets or amidst clouds of carriage-kicked up dust during bustling afternoons. The film’s ostensible heroine, Irisz (Juli Jakab), is all but swallowed by the phantasmagoric swirl of violent, competing forces which she finds herself caught up in. Nemes augments this approach by fashioning a reactive character: Jakab is as expressive as she is impenetrable. This treatment of the lead is significant, and the director’s underlying interest in the relationship between individual and society is no more keenly felt than when, in the course of a riotous tracking-shot that portends a ratcheting tension to follow, Irisz is paradoxically warned: “You’re spared. Save yourself.”

Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 3.