Michel Franco's SUNDOWN is a stunning taut character study that takes you from extreme discomfort to a kind of blissful understanding in its short 85 minute running time. It features a typically memorable and nuanced performance from Tim Roth as an extremely wealthy man called Neil who seemingly on a whim decides to turn his back on his family. As the film opens, we see the family luxuriating in a Mexican resort that could come straight out of HBO's White Lotus. As Neil wryly says to Colin, "why do have to be such an arsehole?" Their existence is lubricated by endless drinks and low-level bickering. We are unclear as to Neil's relationship with Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) but he seems distant.
The key plot point happens half an hour in when the family is called home to deal with the death of Alice's mother, and Neil pretends he's left his passport at the hotel and doesn't board the flight. He checks into a random downtown hotel and rather sleepily falls into a rhythm of drinking at the beach by day and sleeping with a local girl by night. He seems happy in this relationship and I rather admired his ability to slip into the local scene. But the audience's frustration mounts with each lie to Alice and our discomfort rises with the momentary flashes of violence.
As the film moves into its final act, Franco and Roth masterfully manipulate our feelings. It's testament to Roth's easy-going charm that even at his most inexplicable, we still hang in there with Neil, hoping to understand. Credit to to Henry Goodman (TAKING WOODSTOCK) as Richard, because his faith in Neil keeps us engaged. The resulting film is slippery and strange and unforgettable.
SUNDOWN has a running time of 83 minutes. It played Venice, Toronto and London 2021.
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