×

Laszlo Nemes on Venice Title ‘Sunset’ as a Period, Political and Personal Piece

After walking a laurel-strewn path with 2015’s Oscar-winning “Son of Saul,” Hungarian auteur Laszlo Nemes didn’t get lured in by Hollywood. Instead, he chose to dive into his own cultural heritage and explore the flaws of European civilization through the tale of a mysterious woman lost in Budapest on the eve of World War I.

Sunset” re-teams the director with “Son of Saul” actress Juli Jakab, who he said looks convincingly as though she’s stepped from a time machine. Chosen out of hundreds of actresses who auditioned for the part, Jakab plays Irisz Leiter, a young woman who travels to Budapest in 1913 with hopes of pursuing a career at her late parents’ famous hat store. She soon learns of a brother she never knew she had and embarks on a journey to find him. During her quest, she stumbles upon secrets and witnesses the chaos foreshadowing the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It’s a period piece but, in a subtle way, it’s also politically minded. Nemes said he was drawn to this chapter of history because it marked a pivotal time in the formation of Europe and the rise of extremism, and resonates in many ways with current times.

“There was an expectation that something was going to happen. There was a thirst for the mythical, the unknown, along with science and a firm belief in technology….At the same time, below the surface, some dark, repressed, untamed forces were threatening this sophisticated world,” said Nemes, adding that he was interested in the “combination of light and darkness which co-existed.”

Sunset” is also a personal film. “When I was a kid, my grandmother, who lived through the world wars, told me a lot about this century,” Nemes said. “That’s why I was inspired to tell the fate of a woman and see the events unfold through her eyes.”

Nemes, who studied at France’s prestigious Sciences Po university, said “Sunset” was an homage to Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s 1927 drama “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.” “‘Sunrise’ was an inspiration for me. It brilliantly depicted America’s urban craziness and the optimism that people had, the trust they had in progress, the inventiveness. Meanwhile, the film had a very Central European approach to filmmaking,” said Nemes, adding that both Murnau’s and his movies “tell something about a civilization’s hopes and despairs.”

As with “Son of Saul,” Nemes didn’t rely on any CGI technology. Sets were meticulously built to convey the authenticity of Budapest at that time, when it was considered the cultural capital of Europe. “I really wanted to give audiences a feel of how chaotic Budapest was at the turn of the century. There is no way to achieve that with CGI, which often ends up looking like intros to video games,” said Nemes. He insisted on shooting on 35-millimeter film, and employed some of the same subjective, handheld camera work seen in “Son of Saul.”

In fact, don’t expect Nemes, an ardent movie buff, to buy into the current hype over VR. “We’re already enslaved to our phones, and computers have taken over our brains. Let’s not give up on cinema,” he said. “Viewers need some kind of distance from what they’re watching in order to have subjective gaze.”

Produced by Hungary’s Laokoon Filmgroup and France’s Playtime, with the support of the Hungarian Film Fund, the movie was made on a budget of €9 million ($10.4 million).

Nemes, who is repped by UTA, said he doesn’t have a clear idea of what his next film will be but is reading material and could possibly make an English-language film in the near future. “Everything is open. Working in English opens up opportunities to work with great actors and step away from conventions.”

More Film

  • Dunkirk

    Harry Styles Is the Perfect Prince Eric; Why He'd Rock 'Little Mermaid' Role

    Could Harry Styles be the perfect Prince Eric? One day after the announcement that the One Direction star is “in early negotiations to play the iconic ‘Little Mermaid’ role,” the internet exploded with speculation as to how he would portray the object of Ariel’s affections. “I can see lots of reasons why Harry is perfect,” [...]

  • The Lion King

    Film News Roundup: PETA Sponsors Rescued Lion in Jon Favreau's Name

    In today’s film news roundup, PETA honors Jon Favreau for “The Lion King,” “Tigers Are Not Afraid” gets a theatrical release, a Kirk Franklin biopic is in development and “The Sixth Sense” gets an anniversary showing in Philadelphia. HONOR The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is sponsoring a rescued lion to honor director [...]

  • Tokyo Director-in-Focus-at-Japan-Now

    Nobuhiko Obayashi set as Japanese Director in Focus at Tokyo Film Festival

    Indie director, Nobuhiko Obayashi will be feted as the director in focus at the Japan Now section of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will give a world premiere to his “Labyrinth of Cinema.” Supporting his art by shooting commercials, Obayashi is an indie whose dreamy works have influenced numerous other directors in [...]

  • Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Movie

    Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Thriller 'Unhinged' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jimmi Simpson will play a key role in “Unhinged,” Variety has learned. He joins an impressive cast that includes Oscar-winner Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius. Solstice Studios is producing the psychological thriller, which is currently filming in New Orleans. “Unhinged” centers on a woman named Rachel (Pistorius), who leans on her horn at the wrong [...]

  • David Crosby

    David Crosby Says New Documentary 'Remember My Name' Is Like 'Being Naked in Public’

    “It’s not easy. It’s hard being naked in public,” David Crosby, the legendary troubadour of classic rock, reflected at Tuesday night’s New York City premiere of “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” “I don’t know what to do here. There’s no guitars, no drums,” he laughed. Directed by newcomer A.J. Eaton and produced by the legendary [...]

  • Javier Bardem Dune

    Javier Bardem in Talks to Play King Triton in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Javier Bardem is in talks to play King Triton in Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. Harry Styles is also in early talks to play Prince Eric. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • UglyDolls

    STX Tries to Put Flops Behind It as It Searches for Star Executive, Fresh Capital

    After a series of film flops and an aborted initial public offering, STX Entertainment is battling mounting skepticism that it can survive in an increasingly unforgiving movie business. As it hustles to find $500 million in fresh capital, the company, which operates in the red according to financial disclosures, is simultaneously hoping to attract a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content