László Nemes, follows the Oscar-winning Son of Saul, with a dark and mysterious costume drama set in pre-first world war Budapest. Sunset is a visual delight taking the classic costume drama and injecting it with a dose of gothic horror. While attempting to thread its story with themes of societal change and the oncoming storm of war and division in 1913 Europe.
Juli Jakab plays Irisz Leiter, a haunted young woman who returns to Budapest intent on gaining employment as a milliner at the cities prestigious Leiter hat store. A store founded by her late parents who died in a fire there when Irisz was just two years old. Her arrival is greeted with indifference and suspicion by the shop workers and owner Oszkár Brill (Vlad Ivanov). The tragedy of her parents death, and rumours of her own brother having caused the fire rippling through the staff, customers and wider community.
As Irisz rejoins a society of wealth and secrets, she struggles to assimilate into the behaviour expected by those around her. The nagging need to discover the truth behind her own family disaster and the fate of her older brother whose name is synonymous with the murder of their parents. As she spreads her wings and delves into the past, the present also begins to unravel. As a country on the verge of war, divided by wealth begins to separate.
Sunset holds elements of brilliance, from the stunning visual landscape to the subdued colours and central performances. Nemes manages to create just enough mystery and tension to keep the audience engaged. However, this is also a film riddled with structural problems, its multiple themes never quite producing a viable end product.
Sunsets narrative often feels messy, bouncing the viewer from a family mystery to hat shop gothic horror, while layering both with the unravelling of a county heading toward war. This creates a confused film, that never truly finds it hook, loosing the audience in a convoluted story that is ultimately forgettable. Sunsets main strength exploring the interface between wealth, poverty and oncoming war, is often not siezed upon to its full advantage, favouring story elements that lead the film into uninteresting dead ends.
Beautiful visuals and enigmatic performances keep Sunset alive, but cannot save the film from its own narrative flaws and construct, ultimately leaving you disappointed and unfulfilled.