Venice 2021: Michel Franco's 'Sundown' with Tim Roth in Acapulco
by Alex Billington
September 6, 2021
I really want to talk about this film, there's so much to discuss, but I also can't really say anything about it. I haven't been able to get this film out of my head since I first watching it a few days before at the 2021 Venice Film Festival. Sundown is the latest feature written & directed by acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco, who shocked audiences in Venice last year with his revolutionary Mexican thriller New Order (aka Nuevo Orden - watch the trailer). This year he is back in Venice with something else new that feels like it's connected to New Order but is an entirely different story. However, I will say that between New Order and this film, I am SO HERE for Franco's era of filmmaking about wealth and its dominance over us. These films mess with my head so much, because there's no clear explanation or side being taken. They challenge me in surprising ways, because they're so intriguing. Both films are complex examinations of the power of money.
Sundown begins with a family enjoying their spectacular vacation staying at some fancy resort in the beach town of Acapulco, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. They don't talk much, they just lie around enjoying the sun and cervezas and food. Tim Roth is there, as is Charlotte Gainsbourg. Something happens and they have to leave quickly. But that's all I can tell you about this film and the story. I had absolutely no idea what was about to happen next the entire film after the first 10 minutes - it's a haunting story of one man. (That's all you need to know, anyway.) A low-key existential drama with fascinating implications. The best way to experience it is to know nothing before viewing. Honestly it's the right way to watch this - the filmmaking is exceptional because the reveals of who he is, what is happening, and everything else are important to the storytelling. How and why we find this out in the film are as vital to the story as all of the technical details.
What I think is going on in here is that the film is ultimately dealing with the disarming guilt of wealth and how it is impossible to escape the influence and power of money no matter how hard you try. Roth plays his character perfectly, seemingly with no feelings at all, no vibrancy or outward expression of any kind. It's not easy to play someone without any emotions or any desire to do anything, but there's still so much heaviness simmering deep within him. That is exactly what is so entrancing about watching him get lost in Acapulco. He may even seem like he's not acting, not trying to put in a performance, but he definitely is. It's just that this performance is an outstanding exercise in being so overwhelmed with guilt and dread, that you turn into nothing. You have nothing left, no excitement, no emotion, no motivation, nothing but a careless desire to sit around passively, get drunk all day long, then wait around until the sun goes down & comes up again.
Ultimately, Sundown is the kind of film I hope people will watch because maybe it will get under your skin and stick with you and make you think deeply about its implications just like with me. Whenever I watch this kind of hypnotizing film it always reminds me of that cliche but still very accurate quote that great art isn't mean to to be analyzed, you're supposed to feel it. The best films should be an experience that you can't perfectly describe, only to say that what you've seen has made an impact. You've felt it. Sundown is a film that should stick with you and rattle around in your mind for days, weeks, perhaps months on end. Maybe you don't know why, or maybe you do? Maybe you can't stop thinking about what it all means and how beautifully the filmmaker expressed this in the film. Maybe you just can't shake the feelings that it made you feel. Whatever the case, this is the power of cinema, and exactly why we should embrace great films like this.