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SUNDOWN by Michel Franco... the other Acapulco

Rafael Aviña

Translator, Andrea Cabrera

The creator of polemic and uncomfortable stories whose characters, mainly from the most privileged economic sectors of the country, are involved in dramas of psychological tension and fear, Michel Franco, is one of the most important and controversial filmmakers of our cinema since his disturbing debut film Daniel y Ana (2008).

After the controversial and hypnotic New Order (2020), Franco's next film, Sundown: secretos en Acapulco (France-Mexico-Sweden, 2021), was screened at the 19th Morelia International Film Festival (FICM, by its acronym in Spanish). Franco returns to that rotten social swarm that is today's Mexican nation, in a new attempt to shake the viewer and provoke discomfort. In this film, the fatal destiny is imminent and at the same time liberating. It has several layers of complexity.

As in his film Chronic: el último paciente (2015), once again the actor Tim Roth is the main character. In Sundown, Roth plays Neil Bennett, a 60-year-old British who comes to vacation at a luxurious and exclusive resort in Acapulco, along with his sister Alice (Charlotte Gainbourg) and her teenage children: Colin and Alexa (Samuel Bottomley and Albertine Kotting). The mother of Neil and Alice dies and the wealthy family has to return to London. However, Neil pretends to have forgotten his passport in order to get away from everyone and start a freer and more individualistic life while hiding a secret from his family that will eventually reveal his strange, insensitive and taciturn behavior.

In 1978, the writer Ricardo Garibay detailed in his book Acapulco, a "paradise" very similar to the one described by Michel Franco in his film. "A heart swollen with beauty and putrefaction, violence and swoon... hell and glory, Acapulco is the thug and the fisherman, the humanist and the knife-maker, the prayer and the marijuana. It is the golden skin of luxury, the promise and hunt of abundance, and the burnt skin of misery...". Yes, the Acapulco we see in Sundown is one of poverty, violence, beauty, economic abysses, sensuality and abuse. It's closer to the one portrayed by Luis Alcoriza in his raw film Paraíso (1969), a choral portrait of the port among pimps, prostitutes, cliff divers and scuba divers. It's even similar to the one seen in the first sequences of Nicolas Roeg's thriller: Frío en el paraíso/Cold Heaven (1991).

Sundown: secretos en Acapulco (2021, dir. Michel Franco)

In a strange way, the protagonist avoids returning to his homeland despite the large fortune he will inherit. He prefers to stay in Acapulco, where he will gradually get to know the other reality of the unglamorous Acapulco Tradicional: the one of Caleta and Caletilla, the plastic chairs on the most popular beaches, the beer and cheap food, and above all, the daily violence of the organized crime. He witnesses shootings, executions on crowded beaches and the jail in Guerrero where prisoners and cops coincide, while he begins a hot and carefree sexual relationship with a sensual young local girl he meets in a small store: Berenice (Iazua Larios).

In order to recover the Acapulco of his adolescence, nowadays transformed into an ordinary and recurring nightmare, Michel Franco gives a disturbing twist to the concept of recovered paradise and of masculine ode proposed by the aforementioned Alcoriza in Tiburoneros (1963). Once again, the filmmaker builds a nihilistic story where he avoids any explanation and brings exciting themes of psychological tension and uncomfortable silences of pain, resignation and guilt.