After the large-scale brutality of political horror film New Order, Michel Franco returns with a low-key study in deceptive behaviour and enigmatic motives. Tim Roth headlines as a man attempting to escape his past and present, while on holiday in Mexico.
Neil Bennett (Roth) is on holiday with Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and two kids, Colin (Samuel Bottomley) and Alexa (Albertine Kotting McMillan). The setup, we initially assume, is a family on a high-class vacation in Acapulco. The Bennetts are clearly loaded, as the villa they occupy overlooking the Gulf of Mexico comes with its own servants. An unexpected phone call from London quickly ends their time drinking expensive margaritas and lounging by the pool, but Neil pretends he’s lost his passport, abandons his family, checks into a seedy hotel in a working-class resort, turns off his mobile, spends his days drinking cheap beer on the beach, then starts a sexual relationship with shopkeeper Berenice (Iazua Larios).
Sundown begins like a trickle of water and slowly gathers river-like strength. Contained in its brisk 83 minutes is a meditation on time running out and constantly dwelling on this inescapable fact. It contains examples of all of lives joys and fears: family, love, death, the search for meaning, search for love, time, lack of time, contemplating our existence – it’s all here and delivered so subtly and deftly by director Franco. Moments of tenderness and almost shy humour sit next to the boiling heat of class conflict, eruptions of savage violence in public and the wealth divide.
Roth, reuniting with Franco after 2013’s Chronic, is superb as Neil. Roth manages to make this guy funny and weirdly endearing – which isn’t easy to do, given the setup to the story, where he initially comes off as an aloof bastard (to the point of being callous). Neil rejects his haute bourgeoisie surroundings, his family, his life back home, we assume initially, and incorrectly, because he’s just another pent up, repressed and very bored chap detaching from everybody around him because he wishes to indulge in baser urges and vices on offer outside the hermetically sealed world of the five-star hotel and grounds, to slum it with the real folk and partake in sweaty romps with local lasses. But we’d be dead wrong.
Sundown is a film full of narrative and emotional surprises, upending the middle-aged bloke having a midlife crisis storyline, with Yves Cape’s cinematography capturing the classy and mundane locations with equally seductive attributes. Roth and Franco’s second rodeo is a melancholic banger.
Visit the BFI London Film Festival page to delve deeper into the wealth of films on show this year.
Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio