Historical Upheaval

László Nemes is the Hungarian-born filmmaker who began his career as Béla Tarr’s assistant during the making of The Man From London. He made his feature debut with the highly-acclaimed Son of Saul, which won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as the Grand Jury prize in Cannes. He returns with Sunset, starring Juli Jakab as Irisz Leiter, a young woman in Budapest in 1913, in search of a brother she never knew she had. 

ASFF: What inspired you to make Sunset?
When I was a kid, my grandmother used to tell me about the 20th century, the life she had, and she had the great chance to live through all the totalitarian regimes. She told me so much about those times … that’s why I approached this project. I had this feeling of a woman lost in the city and she’s trying to find herself, trying to find the brother that’s part of herself, and that quest for me is an invitation for the audience to go on a personal journey. Not something external, but really go into the layers of our own soul if we are ready for it. If we’re not, we’re not.

ASFF: The film is very oblique in its meaning. How would you describe it?
It’s the quest of a young woman to find her brother. If you want to understand everything, then obviously you’ve come to the wrong place. I really believe in cinema that can open you to possibilities of journeys for the audience. I guess a lot of people are very much conditioned by today’s cinema to have a certain kind of story – the way you tell the story, the way you approach the characters, the way the characters interact. 

ASFF: How do you view Irisz? Is she a feminist ahead of her time?
LN: For me, she is a mixture of the feminine and masculine senses. She is a mixture. It’s a doppelgänger movie for me. At that time, women were in a very codified world, for better and for worse, but I was interested in not separating and seeing how this very feminine creature in the journey find something more ominous in herself.

ASFF: You use a lot of long takes. How do your actors respond to this?
I think it’s very difficult for actors to sustain performance during longer takes…it’s always a challenge because it’s less done. But it’s also a great energy that we can transmit to each other – cast and crew and cast members between themselves.

ASFF: What is your philosophy behind film? Is it still a medium for taking risks?
I think every film should challenge the way films are made. If it’s only entertainment, that’s fine, but cinema has a tradition, an essence of inventiveness and taking risk and throwing the audience off balance. Maybe I just skipped through the years, but they did it in the 1960s, they did it in the Seventies, and some still do it, but less and less, and because of television. Because people are so scared of not being presented with the usual structure, I really think that that was pushed by broadcasters, and when television started funding cinema and completely annihilating the thirst to find new ways … it’s as simple as that. Now you have to put it on television.

Sunset is released in cinemas on 31 May. For more details, click here.

James Mottram

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