Film Review: Historical Drama is Fortified by Technique in 'Sunset'

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CHICAGO – History is made when you’re often busy making other plans. That is ardently illustrated in “Sunset,” a drama set early in the second decade of the 20th Century in the on-the-brink-of-revolution capital of Budapest, Hungary. A retail store is the town’s centerpiece, plus there is a mysterious woman associated with that store, until she isn’t. Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

Juli Jakab portrays the woman, and she single handedly (practically) brings this history to life. The camera focuses on Jakab in a series of episodic vignettes amid the edgy and anarchy-ridden streets of the city, giving the film a sense of confinement from everything going on around her. That is part of the remarkable nature of this film … while the eye of the action is on the woman, squeezed around her in the frame are the events of that moment. This may be as simple as a team of horse thundering by, or as pompous and stately as her majesty the queen. What floats is a foreboding sense of impending doom, but for the most part it holds off, until the powder keg of anarchy can’t help but explode. Add a dash of soap opera and symbolic anti-feminism, and director Laszlo Nemes (“Son of Saul”) has accomplished his creative mission.

The city of Budapest is thriving in 1910, in many ways outdoing its rival Vienna in the “belle epoch” days before the Great War. Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) has arrived, claiming to be the daughter of the former owners of Leiter’s Hat Store. Her arrival is seemingly foretold, because store manager Oszkar Brill (Vlad Ivanov) is compliant with her will to join the hat-making (milliner) crew.

As she is settling in, a man tips her off that her brother may still be alive, sending Irisz on a frantic search. The trail leads to an anarchist’s nest, and the potential overthrow of the Hungarian monarchy involves the lost brother. Dividing her time between the store and the search makes a tense situation seem hopeless, until that hopelessness spills into the streets like rain into a gutter.

“Sunset” opened in Chicago on March 29th, part of a nationwide release. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Juli Jakabl, Vlad Ivanov, Evelin Dobos, Susanne Wuest and Christian Harting. Written by Laszlo Nemes, Clara Royer and Matthieu Taponier. Directed by Laszlo Nemes. Rated “R”

StarContinue reading for Patrick McDonald’s full review of “Sunset”

Juli Jakab as Irisz Leiter in ‘Sunset’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

StarContinue reading for Patrick McDonald’s full review of “Sunset”

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