Some movies are stuffed to the gills, packed with quick cuts and a constantly shifting camera, overloaded with dialogue and characters and plot twist after plot twist. There is often a sense with such a film that they are trying too hard, that they are unable to just tell their story because they have such little story to tell; consequently, they fill the screen and the audience’s time with distractions. At the far other end of the spectrum lies works like “Sundown,” a movie which largely exists with Tim Roth staring off into the distance, and it is something to behold.
Do not mistake what I am saying, “Sundown,” which is written and directed by Michel Franco, is utterly entrancing. It tells a complete story, it just manages to do so at a languid pace, allowing the movie to unfold as it wants to, allowing camera shots to extend as much as they might desire, allowing the viewer to stare at Roth and wonder exactly what is going on in his mind and with the movie itself.
Reading the official synopsis for the film doesn’t do justice to it, as said paragraph explains little more than the opening portion of “Sundown.” It offers up the notion that Neil and Alice Bennett (Roth and Charlotte Gainsbourg) are on vacation with the younger Bennetts, Colin and Alexa (Samuel Bottomley and Albertine Kotting McMillan), when something happens and things get disrupted. That’s kind of like describing “Superman” by saying that worried about the safety of his home planet, Jor-El makes the difficult choice to send his only son to Earth. It’s true and it sets you up for everything that follows, but it doesn’t tell you that much about the movie.
That said, I am certainly not going to tell you much more other than the fact that Neil ends up staying in Acapulco when the other three depart, he meets a woman named Berenice (Iazua Larios), and… things happen. Not a whole lot of things, but enough things and certainly important things. By the time the movie ends, we understand so much more of that look behind Neil’s eyes as he sits and drinks his beers, and while we may or may not agree with what he’s done, we can see the reasoning, we can see the logic behind it.
Wonderfully, while the whole affair is perhaps mysterious, the audience spends most of its time trying to decipher why Neil’s actions are what they are. Franco is uninterested in offering us some sort of massive, overstated, reveal or twist. The answers are just kind of handed out, little by little, until we fully grasp the entire scope. Put another way, there are revelations, yes, but none of them ought to be described as “shocking” or “out of left field” or “an ingenious twist.”
No, the movie is Roth, who is completely fantastic. For a long time we may not understand his actions, but looking at him we can be entirely sure that Neil has his reasons. Roth, just slouching in a chair on the beach and staring off for hour after hour, makes us sit up straighter and take notice.
If it appears as though I have been completely won over by “Sundown,” it is because that is exactly the case. It is refreshing in the economy of its storytelling, there is something amazing about just watching this one man, in watching people come into and out of his life like the waves that lap at his feet on the beach – tugging at him but never strong enough to pull him out.
So, what is “Sundown,” exactly? Well, it’s kind of a mystery, but not really. It’s sort of a family drama, but not entirely. A little bit it’s a romance, but not so much. The only thing it is, in its entirety, is tremendous.
photo credit: Bleecker Street