Starring Tim Roth, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Iazua Lario
Writer-Director Michel Franco
Rating: *** ½
Those of us who have been fortunate enough to see Mexican director Michel Franco’s 2012 masterpiece After Lucia which won the top prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section, would be familiar with his raw wounding parables on splintered family ties. In After Lucia a newly widowed father of a 17-year old must face the pain of his daughter being brutally bullied and ragged in her new school.
Nothing is as brutal in Franco’s new film. Outwardly Sundown is calm,imperturbable, like the tranquil ocean waves of Acapulco in Mexico where this scenic film with a seedy heart is shot. Unlike Michel Franco’s two previous controversial films Daniel & Ana and After Lucia, Sundown has very little physical violence. But the eerie calm is a forecast of a storm that never quite hits the film, not because Franco doesn’t aim well but because of the purposefully tangential responses of the protagonist for hurts and wounds too deep for melodrama or hysteria.
Tim Roth who is to Sundown the opposite of Godot, is in almost every frame .And God bless his omnipresence. Roth is among the most underrated British actors on this planet. If you have seen in Michel Franco’s Chronic where Roth played a male nurse caring for the terminally ill, you would know what unplumbed depths of empathy Roth can bring to his character.
In Sundown Roth plays a man who is just the opposite of what he played in Chronic.Roth’s Neil Bennett is a wealthy super-privileged scion of a British business empire of pork sellers.When we first meet him he is vacationing in Acapulco with his sister Alice(played by the wonderful Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her two children.
When a death in the family beckons the vacationers back to London, Neil pretends to lose his passport at the Mexican airport and stays back…for an indefinite period of debauchery and hedonism….all expenses paid.
It is a hideous horrifically irresponsible move, and one that we know will only end in catastrophe. We know it. I think Neil knows it too. His entire attitude and posture suggest a defiant repudiation of and contempt for the future, which are never articulated. Every beat and pulse of this meatless story suggests a man who has flung all caution to the winds and the seawaves.
Redolent with guilty silences and eerie awkward pauses, Sundown is a film like no other. Till the end we do not fathom the depths of Neil Bennett’s self-pleasuring disaffection .Is he in this for fun? Or are we not told about Neil’s secret depths of hurt that has turned him into a egotistic monster?
At times Tim Roth’s selfserving vacation reminded me of Olivia Colman in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter. However rest assured, Roth’s Neil Bennett is his own man. Numbed by the ineria of irresponsibility , powered by a recklessness that we never fathom until it is too late, Sundown is an experience that defies definition and analysis.
Why does this man do what he does? Why is the local Mexican chick(Iazua Larios) who befriends him, not a gold digger at the end? Why is the world so inured to family duties? What if z man decides to fling away his duties for a fling with extreme Epicureanism?