Michael Franco’s latest collaboration with the actor sees Roth on a Mexican beach holiday, blissfully unaffected by grief

Neil Bennett is enjoying a nice holiday at a Mexican resort with his sister, Alice, and her two teenage kids. They’ve got the sea view and the infinity pool and a hotel entertainer to sing for them over supper. Then all of a sudden, disaster. The phone rings; their mother’s dead. So Neil does what any sensible son would do in his position. He pretends he’s lost his passport and therefore can’t fly home for the funeral. The woman’s dead anyway, so what does she care?

Clearly it’s wrong to laugh at Michel Franco’s brilliant Sundown but I’m afraid that I did all the same – several times while watching the movie; several more times when remembering it afterwards. It’s the funniest film in this year’s Venice competition, also maybe the nastiest, although it never reaches for laughs or disgust and might just as easily be read as a small-scale human tragedy. Sundown shows Neil’s decision, then proceeds to stroll alongside him like an innocent party. It’s an approach that makes the film all the more blackly comic.

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