László Nemes follows up his Oscar-winning film Son of Saul with an equally tense and frenetic drama about a young woman surrounded by oppressive forces. Irisz comes to Budapest initially looking for a job at a hat store, but when the interviewer realizes who she is and tells her to leave, her determination causes catastrophic reverberations through the town. It’s a fantastic work which showcases one of the best performances of the year.
Nemes transposes his incredible visual style and aesthetic from his masterful debut feature to this less intense story, which gives it as much emotional weight and tension as its predecessor. The cinematography is similarly claustrophobic and immersive. Irisz is almost always onscreen and Nemes centers her, keeping the brooding or erupting danger slightly out of frame or focus. The film also matches that visual style with a narrative that unravels methodically; there’s more information given in body language than actual dialogue.
But even considering the impeccable film-making craft on display, the film’s main strength is Jakab Juli, who plays Irisz. Not only does the film narratively rest on her shoulders, with the audience only gathering information as she does, but the film is mostly shot in long takes and close ups, again with her centered through most of the run-time so Juli has to carry the entire film, and she does a phenomenal job, bringing to mind last year’s also fantastic A Gentle Creature and Vasilina Makovtseva’s entrancing performance.
The film loses some of its momentum in the second half, but despite some of the pacing and structural issues, I found the film captivating and moving. I understand the complaints that it’s too similar to Son of Saul visually, but I don’t care if he continues to use the same visual style for the rest of his career, as long as he matches it with equally impressive narratives and lead performances. Sunset proves to be a worthy successor to Son of Saul, boasting excellent film making and a brilliant central performance by Jakab Juli.
Sony Pictures Classics Will Release Sunset In 2019, Dates TBA.