There is no escaping the sun. Either it is at its zenith and burning. Or it disappears picturesquely on the horizon and transforms every beach promenade into an Acapulco postcard motif. The sun initially seems to be an ally of the Bennetts, a very wealthy London meat dynasty consisting of the withdrawn Neil (Tim Roth), sister Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and their grown children. Together they go on vacation in Mexico to recover from business: supported as if stunned by morning cocktails, the four let themselves be radiated on the beach of their five-star hotel and with light leisure activities.
A phone call from the family lawyer (Henry Goodman) disrupts the taciturn idyll: Alice and Neil’s mother has passed away. Under the pretext that he left his passport at the hotel, Neil sends his sister, nephew and niece to London alone. He has himself driven from the airport back to the beach – to Caletilla, where tinny dance rhythms blare and locals and tourists alike can let the waves play around their feet on monobloc chairs.
He checks into a cheap hotel, hooks up with the owner (Iazua Larios) of a souvenir shop, drinks cerveza and ignores his cellphone beeps. Within a very short time, the indolent man in his mid-fifties seems to have built up a surrogate family – one that asks nothing, wants nothing and takes the gringo’s ability to pay for granted. But a drive-by shoot on the beach gives an idea of the downside of the holiday idyll that seems unreal. And after Alice angrily shows up next to the plastic chair to settle the will, she is shot dead in an attempted kidnapping on the way back to the airport.
“Sundown” by Mexican screenwriter and director Michel Franco (“New Order”) does not only develop into an existentialist drama with the incidental violence. His film revolves around the themes of freedom and self-determination and examines the interaction between money, health and society. He does not give clear answers: Neil is rich – but is he happy? is he lonely Sick? Or just plain selfish?
His unbound state seems all the more mysterious because after the death of his sister he ended up in prison himself as a suspect: there, however, his behavior hardly differs from the state of freedom. A glimpse of the Bennett family is revealed when the solicitor brings a British tabloid to prison, in which a “scandalous story” about Neil is headlined “Meet the man behind the meat.”
As in Camus’ existentialist classic “The Stranger”, which also deals with the stations beach and prison, or in Maryse Holder’s feminist self-destruction biography “I breathe with my heart”, Franco focuses on his hero’s listlessness. The fact that Neil, whom Roth portrays with stoic poignancy, has reasons for his behavior keeps the suspense up to the end. Incidentally, the merciless sun that keeps burning the screen over and over again is not entirely innocent.