SUNSET (Napszallta, 2019)

April 13, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Hungarian filmmaker Laszlo Nemes mesmerized us with his first feature film, SON OF SAUL (2015), the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film. That debut was an incredibly unique viewing experience centered on the Holocaust at Auschwitz. Mr. Nemes got much of the band back together for this follow up, and their collaboration, while a bit frustrating to watch, is again quite fascinating to look at.

Mr. Nemes co-wrote the script with his SON OF SAUL writing partners Clara Royer and Matthieu Taponier (also the film’s editor). And for those that share my frustration in watching the film, it’s the story that is likely to blame. Is there a story?  Certainly not in the traditional sense – which makes it difficult to follow or try to explain. Irisz Leiter (played by Juli Jakab) is first seen being fitted for fine hats in the elegant shop that bears her family name. We soon learn her parents both died, and she has been absent from the city for many years. The new owner, Oszkar Brill (Vlad Ivanov, 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, 2007) is startled to learn of Irisz’s return, though we aren’t sure why he is so uncomfortable around her. Irisz soon discovers she has a brother (a surprise to her) and that he is quite notorious in these parts.

Much of the film focuses on Irisz trying to track down her brother, and then track him down again. That’s the closest thing to a plot we get. Mostly it’s a succession of scenes where people ask questions that never get answered. In fact, there is minimal dialogue to go with the now-familiar camera work of cinematographer Matyas Erdely who utilizes his SON OF SAUL first person perspective with background fuzzed out so that we see what one person is seeing. There is an underlying theme of what is apparently a corrupt part of a mysterious sub-culture in the society – even involving the Royal family. Keep in mind this is 1913 Budapest and war is at hand.

The set design and costume design are extraordinary … especially the lavish hats from the era. The score is from Laszlo Melis (also from SON OF SAUL), and while Ms. Jakab is pleasant to look at, the story is disorienting and unfulfilling. The approach with the camera work is designed to force us to see things through the characters’ eyes, but it’s not enough to offset the incoherent and aimless wanderings of Irisz as she collects scraps of information that may or may not be pertinent. Perhaps you are smarter than I am, and will be able to connect the dots … or at least find dots to work with.

watch the trailer:

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DARK CRIMES (2018)

May 30, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. A neo-noir “inspired by actual events” and based on a compelling 2008 “New Yorker” article by the great David Grann (THE LOST CITY OF Z) seems to have the necessary components for a satisfying thriller. So what went wrong? Unfortunately, a messy script from Jeremy Brock (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) prevents this one from ever having a chance at grabbing our attention, much less holding it.

This is the first English language film from director Alexandros Avranas (MISS VIOLENCE, 2013) and his cast is led by Jim Carrey as police inspector Tadek, a disgraced cop who takes care of his elderly mother while also obsessing over the now coldcase that ruined his career. Carrey sports a Polish accent through “most” of his performance … a performance that is mostly subdued, especially given his career. Joining him as co-leads in the cast are two other excellent actors: Martin Csokas and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Csokas plays Kozlow, the main antagonist and suspect – an author with clues to the key murder highlighted in his novel. Ms. Gainsbourg is underutilized as Kasia, the former sex worker, now intimate acquaintance of Kozlow. She is the key to solving the case.

Grann’s article entitled “True Crimes: A Postmodern Murder Mystery” told the story of novelist/convicted murderer Krystian Bala. It’s an article worth reading and one that bears only passing resemblance to this screen adaptation. The film is purposefully drab, bleak, dark, grey and dour, with a stark, cold look to the characters and most every scene. Tadek is a man on a mission to save his reputation, even at the expense of his family life, or really any life at all. The game of cat and mouse between Tadek and Kozlow never reaches the level of tension that the film seems to think it does … even in the one-on-one interrogation scene or the seemingly endless blabbering of the recordings Tadek listens to.

There is a terrific international cast of supporting actors including iVlad Ivanov, Robert Wieckiewicz, Piotr Glowacki and Agata Kulesza, but the cast is only able to do so much with the material. Perhaps the draw is supposed to be Jim Carrey is the darkest role of his career. On the bright side, the story is neatly wrapped up at the end thanks to one character who deserves a “win”.

watch the trailer: