The old world

Film. Mannerist masterpiece or annoying author’s delirium, the new film directed by Son of Saul‘s director divides people. Explanations.


By Valentine Bounaud, Jacques Braunstein and Franck Lebraly

Sitting side by side, we were three among Somewhere\Else’s team to attend László Nemes’s second film. It was during European film festival in les Arcs last december, and then we exchanged our different opinions. An opportunity to write a polyphonic critic about this strange film.

On the brink of First World War, Irisz Leiter lands in Budapest in order to work in the famous millinery formerly run by her parents. The orphan who became hatter in Trieste, on the other side of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, encounters Oszkar Brill’s hostility. New owner of the house, he got his fingers burnt while working with Irisz’s brother, which ended up in a tragic way.

Strong and quite fascinating experience. But also a difficult and puzzling film.

The camera clings on to Irisz (very beautiful and mysterious Jili Jakab) whereas we hear sounds coming from everywhere, which creates a gap between our focused looks and our ears opened to a wider scene escaping our eyes. The first among us found this experience quite fascinating. The second one said he had a headache. The third one noticed that the young French-Hungarian director already used this technic in his first film, Son of Saul  (Cannes Grand Prize in 2015) in the totally different context of a death camp. Then in his mind, this trademark tends to be a process.

The shots’, scenery’s and outfits’ beauty – especially those of hats- contrasts with the threat hovering over the city at nightfall. Is it an evocation of the war coming? Of a secret we don’t know? Or the translation of the unknown political turmoil of Hungary back to these days. Despite a few researches, it was impossible to decide. If we wanted to improve our knowledge, we would mention here The World of Yesterday written by Stephen Zweig, which inspired Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel in a completely different way, but it’s not the matter.

In Sunset (dusk in English), the brother’s shadow is lingering over the film. The first one among us thought he was the bearded bandit interested in Irisz, the second one thought we never get to see him in the film… The third one didn’t make his mind until (in the egg bringing us to another part of the Arcs) he heard a festival-goer claiming his brother was actually herself. Bewildering but appealing explanation which reminded us somehow of the pop theories about Magnum or The Prisoner.

This night, everyone agreed to say that the film’s secret was in the last shot we won’t reveal. In order not to spoil the film but also because the first one and the second one didn’t interpret it in the same way. And the third one was unable to decide between them because he ended up sleeping.

Sunset is a strong and quite fascinating experience. But also a difficult and puzzling film it’s better to see twice than three.