by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2021: Michel Franco returns to the Lido with a seventh feature that feels more like an unfinished sketch
The last time Michel Franco made it to Italy, and to the Venice Film Festival’s main competition, he scared everyone to death with New Order [+see also:
film profile], so it’s perfectly understandable that he wanted to take things slower this time around. But Sundown [+see also:
film profile] feels like a prelude to something much bigger and ultimately remains unfulfilling, like a prestigious short suddenly stretched to its very limits.
It all begins in a lovely hotel in Acapulco – the city where Franco reportedly used to holiday himself as a kid – where a man and a woman, and two quite grown-up kids, are clearly enjoying themselves, going to town on those spiked margaritas. There are dinners, swimming and lounging around in the sun. It takes us a while to realise that these are not Neil’s (Tim Roth) own children and that Charlotte Gainsbourg isn’t playing his wife. They are siblings, about to receive a very distressing call.
Roth, who also worked with the director on 2015’s Chronic [+see also:
film profile], once again delivers a very subdued performance – it’s as if Franco had the ability to bring out the most tenderness in the actor, so famous for his villainous, “I love you, Honey Bunny” turns. But there is something off about Neil, notable from the start, who after some perturbations ends up in Mexico all alone. It’s never clear as to why, though – why he decides to go on with the lies and pretend nobody’s waiting on the other end of his phone. It’s a disturbing feeling, not knowing anything about the person you are observing on screen, yet Franco seems to enjoy it.
For a story about a man under pressure who – and this is a believable turn – decides to sit it all out instead, literally, spending hours and hours on a hot beach half-asleep, it’s very low-key. Neil just starts a new life, fooling himself that the old one won’t ever come calling. He finds a cheap place to stay, a girlfriend and a kind of laid-back existence where nobody asks any questions, as long as you are buying another beer. But unrest in Mexico is never far away, and the holiday paradise ends once you leave the swanky hotel’s infinity pool. On the public beach, it’s another story – with some getting shot in broad daylight and others not even looking surprised.
There is a sudden swerve into Succession territory here, as it’s revealed that Neil and his sister are heirs to an enormous fortune, including slaughterhouses that clearly made it into his subconscious a long time ago. It’s odd, and at the same time it isn’t, as once again, it lets Franco explore societal divides and the possible violence erupting whenever privilege meets a complete lack of prospects. Still, when the end credits started to roll at that late-night press screening, someone whispered, “That’s it?!” in the cinema, and yes, just like in that old song, Sundown leaves one wondering if that’s all there is.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.