Starring Juli Jakab. In Hungarian and German, with English subtitles. Rated PG
It’s a good thing Hungary’s Juli Jakab is a compelling screen presence. Because in Sunset’s two hours and 22 minutes, viewers spend more time with the back of her head than they do with most actors’ faces in other movies.
Here, writer-director László Nemes follows his central protagonist so closely that everything is reduced to one perspective, with limited peripheral vision. The POVer is young Írisz Leiter, arriving in 1913 Budapest to reclaim her stake in the family business, a high-class hat-making salon that burned down a decade earlier.
Since being rebuilt, the place has been run by Mr. Brill (Vlad Ivanov), who’s not all that happy to see her. Soon, everyone is slipping her warnings and contradictory information, and Írisz learns that she may have had an older brother, known as a mysterious bandit. But did he have something to do with the fall of the House of Leiter? Or might this figure be some kind of revolutionary, aiming at effete rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire, visiting from Vienna?
Knowing a lot about what triggered the First World War does one little good in sorting out what Nemes is trying to say about the changing of the European guard a century ago. Admirable efforts have been made to dress everything with late-belle-époque elegance, but that’s mostly seen as out-of-focus background to Írisz’s hours of traipsing. A coda is even more enigmatic. Still, if movies won awards for best neck, Sunset would definitely clean up.