Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Tim Roth, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Iazua Larios, Henry Goodman, Albertine Kotting McMillan, Samuel Bottomley, Mónica Del Carmen
Written by: Michel Franco
Directed by: Michel Franco
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, violence, language and some graphic nudity
Running Time: 83
Date: 02/04/2022
IMDB

Sundown (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Figure of Beach

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This quietly sharp, deeply observant movie is about human nature, both the characters' and the audiences'; it plays with our judgments and our preconceived notions with a confident, even-handed touch.

A wealthy family of four is on vacation in Mexico, relaxing in a luxurious hotel with. Alice Bennett (Charlotte Gainsbourg) receives a call and learns that her mother is gravely ill. She decides to cut the vacation short, and orders grown kids Alexa (Albertine Kotting McMillan) and Colin (Samuel Bottomley) to start packing.

At the airport, Neil (Tim Roth) rummages for his passport and mumbles that he forgot his passport. In the ensuing confusion, he slips away, catches a cab and asks to be taken to a hotel... any hotel. On the phone, he lies to Alice about how he's trying to get his passport situation squared away, but instead begins lazing on the beach, drinking beers, and hanging out with local shopgirl Berenice (Iazua Larios). What is going on with Neil?

Written and directed by Michel Franco, Sundown begins almost lazily, with scenes that seem unimportant. The family members sleep in the sun, swim, float in the pool, drink cocktails, etc. They eat dinner and argue about a game and try not to look at their phones. The trick here is that Franco wants us to assume what their actual relationship is, and it's likely that most will guess wrong. It's on us to keep checking and re-checking our assumptions and how they relate to what's actually happening.

The opening scenes are merely a test for what comes later. Can we retain sympathy for Neil after he has run out on his family, avoided a funeral, and shirked his duties (even after Alice specifically asked him for help)? Can we retain sympathy for him as he begins to live a life of ease and pleasure?

It helps to employ Ted Lasso's "Be curious, not judgmental." Perhaps Neil is dealing with some kind of fear, surrounding death or funerals? Something else? Either way, Sundown keeps us on our toes, with a rhythm that both relaxes and shocks. It pulses and breathes. And Roth, who is in nearly every shot, gives a bold, measured performance, one of his best.

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