Lazlo Nemes’ much anticipated follow up to Son of Saul is a slow, unravelling mystery set in Budapest 1913, a city rivalling Vienna in all splendour but with a tension bubbling beneath that has them on the brink of the Great War.
Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) arrives at a renowned hat retailer that by no coincidence shares her name. This store belonged to her late parents, from whom she was separated as an infant. Raised with impressive milliner experience, Irisz returns seeking employment and a connection to the family that she left behind. When she hears talk of having a brother, involved in a local scandal no less, she becomes determined to find out what happened, despite many wanting her to quietly leave town. None moreso than the current proprietor of Leiter’s, and yet through sheer will and stubborn determination she returns time and again, managing somehow to worm her way into a position and a place to stay.
There begins a pattern of Irisz having a door closed in her face, both figuratively and literally, only to find another way in, sometimes impossibly so. This she does whilst uncovering secrets that belie this establishment and the customer base of wealthy elites.
Sunset uses the same shooting style as Nemes’ previous film, following the central character and framing every event from her perspective, if not looking over her shoulder, looking directly at her face. Where Son of Saul had the terrifying urgency of a Jewish worker navigating through hellish layers of Auschwitz, the style choice is less obvious here.
Despite being in every shot of the film Irisz doesn’t give much away. This feels mysterious at first, especially with her magical ability to defy instruction and consequences, but no explanation makes her feel empty, if not a tad dense, in the end.
The camerawork, which has to be a focus-puller’s nightmare, grows tiresome with unclear intention, making events feel more contrived than they might have otherwise – conveniently stumbled upon like a kind of immersive theatre.
The drawn out pace and repetitive nature make it feel unnecessarily long, but it is a treat to look at regardless and you sit in constant admiration of its complex coordination.