An appropriately elegiac work, “Waiting for Sunset” tells of four former classmates reunited by the imminent death of one of their group. The seniors are otherwise in top form, though diminished by material that’s unduly maudlin and predictable. Buffs will appreciate the opportunity to catch one of the last performances of Robert Mitchum, but the film is unlikely to draw from outside that niche, resulting in limited theatrical performance. Ancillary activity — particularly cable and TV sales — will remain the pic’s most vital venue.
The ailing member of the quartet is Carl (Espen Skjonberg), who’s diagnosed with a fatal disease after sudden, blinding pain causes him to fall down in the streets of Oslo. Waking in his hospital bed, he sees his former cronies Ernest (Mitchum), Ted (Cliff Robertson) and August (Erland Josephson) grinning at him. A long-ago pact ensures Carl of one last wish, and he finally admits to wanting to hear the sister of a slain comrade sing opera one last time.
On the surface, the premise is far too cute to be sustained even by such veteran performers. But there are yet-to-be-revealed elements that provide the material with a richer texture.
Carl is packed up and the men set off for Heidelberg, where they attended medical school back in 1937. There, they hope to track down the long-lost diva. Along the route they dig up the buried remains of the pre-war Nazi past. The script skillfully introduces plot points that allow the key characters to discover how that era informed and shaped their lives. In the process, they uncover a plot none was aware was unfolding more than a half-century earlier.
The problem in “Waiting for Sunset” is not so much content as structure. Getting to the pith of the story is a circuitous trek dotted with only modestly interesting landmarks and characters. One can understand that filmmaker Leidulv Risan doesn’t want to tip his hand too soon, but he errs to another extreme, leaving the best part of the drama for the last reel.
Mitchum seems to anchor the piece simply with his mellifluous delivery. Showing no outward signs of fatigue, he remains a commanding presence to the end. The remaining cast — including thankless roles for Hanna Schygulla and Trine Pallesen — is top-notch, though Robertson is a tad too obvious as a brash American.
Tech credits have a high polish, and Risan has a knack for incorporating locales into the film’s mood. Though the film has a couple of intriguing ideas, finally it sinks unmemorably into the twilight.