(Release Info London schedule; May 12th, 2019, Electric Cinéma, Portobello, 191 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2ED, 10:00 AM)
1913, Budapest, in the heart of Europe. The young Irisz Leiter (Juli Jacob) arrives in 'The Hungarian' capital with high hopes to work as a milliner at the legendary hat store that belonged to her late parents. She's nonetheless sent away by the new owner, Oszkár Brill (Vlad Ivanov). While preparations are under way at 'The Leiter' hat store, to host guests of uttermost importance, a man abruptly comes to Irisz, looking for a certain Kálmán Leiter (Urs Rechn). Refusing to leave the city, the young woman follows Kálmán’s tracks, her only link to a lost past. Her quest brings her through the dark streets of Budapest, where only the Leiter hat store shines, into the turmoil of a civilization on the eve of it's downfall.
The monarchy of 'Austria-Hungary', in the very center of Europe, before the outbreak of 'World War I', is at the crossroads of all the accumulated European tensions, where coexist modernity and obsolescence on many levels. Politically, 'The Old Franz Joseph', 'Emperor Of Austria And King Of Hungary', rules from Vienna, over vast territories, a dozen nations, many cultures and religions. All forms of vigorous political and ideological aspirations that have spread during 'The 19th Century' are present or rampant, sometimes mixed; socialism, anarchism, nationalism. Modern antisemitism reaches it's maturity in Vienna. New scientifc approaches blossom, the first forms of psychological studies and psychoanalysis thrive, whereas many pseudo-scientifc and intellectual groups, cult-like movements, occult sects following illuminated leaders seem to crave for a special place in society, or on the edge of society. Thus, many fundamentally marginal, albeit enthusiastic movements co-exist in 'Austria-Hungary', where all art forms, including architecture, literature and motion pictures, fourish. The identity crisis resulting from the fragmentation of aspirations and the decay of the central royal order, coupled with a disenchantment of the world and a crisis of masculinity, give rise to a vibrating world that could lead to ecstatic prosperity or to downfall. In a way, beyond the love for technology within society and its boundless optimism, there's a deep malaise; a foating sentiment that something ominous, possibly apocalyptic is about to happen. This is the age of an almost biblical expectation. This society, whose codes and sophistication are embodied by the way people dress and behave; the hats they design and wear, preserves a facade of tranquility. But under the veneer of civilization, many forces cannot be controlled. They're about to take all the people, unsuspecting and believing in progress, into a quagmire and destruction of hitherto unseen, industrial proportions.
This film is about a woman, alone, lost in her world, a world she tries but ultimately fails to understand. Probably under the infuence of a certain literary and cinematographic tradition of 'Central Europe'. It's about a main character that's partly surrounded by mystery and whose actions the audience has to assess and re-assess continuously, even becoming at some point a figure of an unexpected dimension, like a strange 'Joan Of Arc' of 'Middle Europe'. Unlike "Son Of Saul,' which had a meticulous documentary-style approach, "Sunset" resembles a tale, a mystery in itself where the viewer is invited on this journey to find, along with the main character, a possible way through this maze of facades and layers. From the outset, this movie as a way to plunge the viewer into a personal labyrinth, along Irisz’s quest to find her brother and ultimately the meaning of the world she wants to discover. Behind every clue she seems to find, there exists contradictory information. Behind every layer, a new one is revealed and the main character herself might very well be unaware of the process taking place deep within her. Irisz is a character caught between light and darkness, beauty and menace, incapable of dealing with the grey zones. In this sense, "Sunset" is also a story of a girl, the blooming of a strange fower. "Sunset", from the outset, intended to follow from close range it's main character, Irisz, allowing a highly intimate approach in an unusual period movie, trying to break with the predictable codes of postcard-perceptions of times past. Hopefully, the viewer is submerged into an unknown world, where people speak diferent languages, sound is a cornerstone of a strategy of immersion, forcing the viewer to give up some defenses.
"Sunset" is a film about a civilization at it's crossroads. In the heart of Europe, at the height of progress and technology, without being written in history, the personal story of a young woman becomes the refection of a process that's in itself, the birth of 'The 20th Century'. A century ago, from the height of it's zenith, Europe committed suicide. This suicide remains a mystery until this very day. It's, as if a civilization, at it's pinnacle, was already producing the poison that would bring it down. At the core of this movie lies this personal preoccupation. "Sunset" is set before 'World War I' in 'The Austro-Hungarian Empire', a seemingly prosperous, multi-national state of a dozen languages and many peoples, with it's blooming capitals Vienna and Budapest, the cultural center of the world. And yet, against this fowering backdrop is the reality of the hidden forces about to tear it apart. Our deep European roots have pushed us to wonder about the age we live in now and the ages of our forefathers, how thin the veneer of civilization can be, and what lies beyond. In our modern, post-nation state world, we seem to forget the deep dynamics of history, and in our boundless love for technology and science, we seem to forget how close to the brink of destruction they can bring us. We live in a world that's not that far from the one before 'The Great War' of 1914. A world utterly blind to the forces of destruction it feeds at it's core. We're not far from the processes that took place in 'The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy'. For us, history is now, and in 'Central Europe'.
The film tries to find the junction between the story of an individual and the state of the world in which the heroine exists. Today’s filmmaking practice is to orient viewers and reassure them continuously, but always want to find new ways to present audiences with a subjective experience of uncertainty and fragility, the underlying current of our very human condition. As in "Son Of Saul', the film confronts the audience with a conventional period piece. We could achieve more by giving a glimpse of a world up close and not try to fully uncover it. The imagination of the viewer would do the rest. Movies, today, refuse to trust the audience. "Sunset" is in a manner that may seem strange to someone who fully embraces today’s filmmaking practices. The film wants to reconnect the audience with the adventurous essence of motion pictures. Less is more our visual approach relied on an organic spatial strategy thanks to an ever-moving camera.
As we dive into the world of a seemingly naive and innocent character, hopefully, we discover everything with her in an organic way. A volatile subjective fow of information turns the story of a young girl into a darker tale of decay. In a cinematic world relying less and less on real sets, and more and more on computers and visual efects, the film takes a stance that cinema has everything to do with the magic of physics, optics and chemicals. It's a trick of perception, of light and darkness. Complicated, choreographed long scenes bring "Sunset" into the physical world, one that the audience can believe in. This film is a testimony to the love of cinema, almost a century after the hopefulness of "Sunrise" by Murnau, a movie to which we pay homage. It seems that we're again at the dawn of a new cinematic era, but one that's less passionate. We might be now, again, at crossroads, and the temptation could take us down a path on which the grammar of filmmaking is more unquestionable and rigid than ever, with an unconditional love for digital technologies and clear-cut dramaturgy, at the risk of losing the magic and the unrelenting inventiveness of cinema.