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TIFF 2021: SUNDOWN Review

By Marina Antunes [09.29.21]


Mexican director Michel Franco blew my socks off last year with New Order and this year, he returns with another knockout of a movie that, while on a completely different note from last year's offering, still makes powerful, and sometimes damning, observations.


In Sundown, we meet siblings Richard and Alice, a pair of well-to-do Brits on vacation in Acapulco. Their idyllic vacation is cut short by a telephone call: there's been a death in the family and they must return to the UK to deal with the funeral. At the airport, Richard can't find his passport so Alice and the kids go on ahead while Richard heads back to the hotel to find his paperwork. Except instead of returning to the well-appointed, clearly expensive resort, Richard directs the cab driver to take him to any hotel, ending up in a clean but run-down room in a less savory area of town.


It's here that Richard meets and Berenice, a young woman who becomes his constant companion through both the good and the bad – and things get pretty bad.



Franco is a master of the mystery, doling out snippets of information in such a measured way that reveals just enough to build the next sentence but not enough to see the full story. Screenwriting at this level is exceptionally difficult to achieve but Sundown successfully manages to tell an engaging story with just enough revealed throughout before dropping a major piece of information that re-frames the entire film and gives the character's motivation new meaning.


Though all this we have Tim Roth giving an exceptionally measured performance which is counterbalanced by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who has a relatively small role, but overpowers in every single scene. The pair are complete opposites of each other: Roth detached and cold, Gainsbourg emotional and on the brink of explosion.


Aside from the contentious familial relationship between Richard and Bernice that is never fully explained but is an undercurrent in every scene between the pair, there's Richard's situation: a white guy essentially hiding out in a part of Acapulco where he sticks out like a sore thumb. He's, unknowingly, a sitting duck for disaster to strike.


Sundown isn't as flashy as New Order - though it does have an explosive scene reminiscent of his last film. It's a quiet movie that relies heavily on the performances to move the story along but it's also a movie that begs for repeat viewing.




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