SUNDOWN – Review by Diane Carson

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Sundown offers a painstaking character study with family dynamics

How does any writer/director cinematically dramatize the life of a middle-aged man, ensnared in ennui, relatively emotionless? That’s the challenge Michel Franco confronts in Sundown. Well, first, to infuse interest, he locates the wealthy British family on vacation at an upscale Acapulco resort, though the sun-drenched beaches and the infinity pool contrast strikingly with the Bennetts’ inertia.

Second, Mexican-born director Franco makes us work to sort out the relationships among the four principal characters. We’ll soon discern that Neil and Alice are siblings, she the mother of teenagers Colin and Alexa. Casual and quiet, they swim, watch a cliff diving show, tip the athletes, eat, and just lie about. Then Alice gets a phone call that cuts the vacation short. Her and Neil’s mother has been taken to a London hospital. In short order, they’re on their way to the airport where Neil says he’s left his passport at the hotel and will join them as soon as possible.

Events zig zag forward from there, so no more from me on plot details. Suffice it to say that violence will without warning intervene and a very different side of Acapulco reveals itself. In fact, in a director’s statement, Franco writes, “It is not a coincidence thatSundown takes place in Acapulco. It is shocking for me to witness the city where I spent childhood vacations turn to an epicenter of violence . . . a place that seems increasingly distant and foreign . . . The decay symbolizes a lot of the larger decay in my country . . . with crime and violence part of life in Mexico. . . This exploration of all perspectives present in Acapulco is also a character study, and a study of family dynamics.” Equally intentional and metaphorical, the Bennett family owns a multibillion-dollar slaughterhouse and pork production business that will figure into legal events, highlighting emotional inadequacy and stultified communication ability.

Know that even with the impactful moments of violence, inspired by some Franco experienced himself, this film progresses slowly, buoyed by the superb performances of Tim Roth and, in too minimal a supporting role, that of Charlotte Gainsbourg. To misappropriate F. Scott Fitzgerald and T.S. Eliot, yes, the rich are different from you and me, but their lives may also end not with a bang but with a whimper.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.