Michel Franco presents his new film ‘Sundown’ at the Arava Film Festival

If his shirt said “Crew” instead of showing a photo of David Bowie, Mexican director Michel Franco could be mistaken for a member of the young Arava International Film Festival staff and not one of his guests of honor.

Franco attended the festival’s 10th anniversary edition to present his latest film, Sundown, starring Tim Roth and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and was one of the festival’s most enthusiastic moviegoers, attending all the screenings under the stars, not just his film. but all the movies that were screened.

The director, who can easily pass for a bum in his twenties but is actually 42, is the son of a Haifa mother and speaks Hebrew. “I came here on vacation but I am completely Mexican,” he said. His father is a Mexican Jew and runs a costume company, while his mother now works in the film industry. He attended a Jewish school at one time, although it was too strict for him, he recalled.

Sundown, which had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival this year, is an unconventional look at Neil (Roth), a man on vacation at an exclusive Mexican resort with his family. The first few minutes make it seem like he’s on an idyllic journey with a close-knit family, but an off-screen tragedy in his native England changes everything. His family goes home while Neil stays behind and seems, inexplicably, to drop out of school, move through ever smaller places, and have an affair with a local woman, Bernice (Iazua Larios). To say more would be to reveal spoilers, but the film has a dreamy, and sometimes nightmare quality, as it reveals layers of the psyche of a tourist much more worried than it seems at first and paints a portrait of all the strata of the city. . Mexican society. Every time you think you know where the story is going, Franco deftly pulls the rug away from you. Even the most basic facts about the characters are different than most viewers will assume.
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“I like to do that,” he said. “The typical thing that is done in the movies or what the books advise on how to write a script … is to deliver as much information as quickly as possible so that the audience can know everything about the characters. And I find it a bit pathetic. I like it when I read a book or watch a movie to discover little by little what it is about. And I think it’s interesting that way … If you had known … everything about the family the moment it begins, you would see it all through a certain lens. I think it’s more interesting for you to look at it and gradually understand what it is about. “

A SCENE from ‘Sundown’. (credit: courtesy)

The script deliberately plays on some conventional fantasies that outsiders have about Mexico, of fleeing to a place where it is cheap to live, relaxing and meeting a young and beautiful Mexican. “Many people, especially men, fantasize about it, to get it right or just for a while. So I’m playing with those expectations, ”he explained.

At one point, Franco actually filmed footage from Neil’s childhood that would have made some of the more mysterious aspects of the story explicit, but these scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. “I decided it’s not about his background, it’s about what he’s going through right now.”

He does acknowledge some of the film’s literary references, notably Camus and Bartleby’s The Stranger, Melville’s Scrivener, though he’s a bit embarrassed to mention them. “I didn’t reread The Stranger while writing it, I didn’t want to steal it.”

He began to develop the story when he went through a crisis a few years ago. “I went through a couple of difficult years, suddenly I didn’t feel young anymore … until I was 38 years old, I felt very young, and suddenly I felt 55 … and suddenly I started to question where I am in my life. which is, I suppose, the midlife crisis. “His friends were married and had children, but he had chosen to stay single and focus on his work.” And the only way to get me out of this crisis was to write this and filming it. And I had a story about a character being left behind, but I didn’t know why, and while I was feeling miserable, I thought, ‘Get to work.’ Get to work. ‘”

While Sundown is definitely about a man in crisis, he is also about a country in crisis. Neil’s trip “shows people different sides of Acapulco,” both the rarefied hilltop resorts and the cheap, crowded, noisy, crime-ridden beach that locals go to. These scenes, as well as a sequence set in a prison, highlight “a very corrupt system,” in a way that places viewers in a place where they question their assumptions.

It’s a less incendiary look at Mexico than his previous film, the controversial New Order, about a rebellion of the poor and a military coup that turns twisted and violent, which was released last year. But Sundown remains a critical and incisive look at his homeland. He is one of Mexico’s most acclaimed filmmakers, and his other films include After Lucia, Daughter of April, and Chronic. However, Chronic also starred Tim Roth in a very different story about a nurse who works with terminally ill patients, which won the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. When they first worked on Chronic, and in In a previous film, 600 Miles (which Franco produced and Roth played an ATF agent), Franco said, “It was the guy from Reservoir Dogs and all these movies that I had grown up watching … But working at Sundown, 10 years later , it was just Tim. “

Franco quickly wrote the script with Roth in mind and sent it to him. “He said, ‘It’s perfect, don’t change anything.’ And I didn’t. “

They managed to finish filming it in early March 2020, just before the pandemic closed movie sets around the world.

“We did it just before we realized what was happening,” he said. He sees the upheavals of the COVID-19 era as an appropriate time to release his film.

“This is not a time when you want to see the obvious,” he said. “And my movie doesn’t tell Neil’s story in an obvious way.”


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