The Sun Movie Review

How do you like your tyrant? You have so many choices these days that it's hard to figure out what's best. Take Hitler for example. If you want him stone cold and terrifying, go for Oliver Hirchbiegal's Downfall, in which Bruno Ganz gave one of the most intense performances of the year as the Fuhrer. Want it weak and sorta awkward? Noah Taylor's turn as Adolf in Menno Meyjes' halfhearted Max should be your ticket. But for outright strangeness and surrealism, you've got to stand and marvel at Aleksandr Sokurov's Moloch, about a day in the life of Hitler with his mistress, Eva Braun, and some other close friends. It's not any easy watch by any stretch of the imagination, which explains why most of his films don't get U.S. distribution: One has to track down these films in DVD or at film festivals. Don't expect his latest, The Sun, to be any sort of exception.

While Moloch dealt with Adolf Hitler and 2001's Taurus dealt with Lenin, The Sun takes on Emperor Hirohito (Issei Ogata) during his August 1954 meetings with General Douglas MacArthur. Under any other director, a film like this would be a political thriller with crisp tension and lots of shouting about pride. Sokurov isn't interested in that stuff, thank God. Instead, Sokurov uses his entrancing, methodical style to search inside the Emperor and look at the character in relation to his use of power and the stress it puts on him. His meetings with General MacArthur (Robert Dawson) are straight-laced and hushed, like two lovers lying in bed in the dead of winter. Even when Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor come up, it's a solemn and sacred speech that they don't want to soil with such emotions as anger and resentment.

Sokurov is about as Russian as vodka-flavored caviar with a side of borscht. His style is thick, lingering, and has the pace of a tortoise with crazy glue on its feet. More than any director you're likely to see, he demands attentiveness and dedication, although he'd tell you that it's nothing special. (I told you, he's Russian.) If you wonder, then, why I hold this guy in such high regard, it's that no one is making movies like this anymore. Closer to old masters like Bresson and Ozu than anybody today, Sokurov want to search for something meaningful and, indeed, transcendental in decisions and characters that were more seen in the public sphere than in any sort of private light. Ogata's performance will be regrettably ignored, but it's an absolute triumph. Every gesture and movement of his lips and eyes is so understated and genuine that we feel like Ogata is channeling the Emperor, constantly moving his lips as if always speaking but only getting half of it out.

Hirohito is a special case for Sokurov. As an emperor, his title likens him to an actual god on earth, a channel that God speaks through. While Hitler just believed he was sent by God, Hirohito has the tough-as-nails job of living up to God standards. Therefore, the scene where he gives up his title is so crucial and devastating; he has given up to MacArthur and, hence, has given up on his country's cause, even though he doesn't regard Hitler as a friend. He sees images of his country demolished by dragons dropping bombs, an image that itself will resonate with veteran fans that are used to his pure muted tones. It's a film that tricks you under its mindfully slow pace by finding the moments in a character, tyrant or not, where you see where they are and who they are, and Sokurov doesn't allow you to look away.

Aka Solntse. Reviewed as part of the 2005 New York Film Festival.

Comments

The Sun Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2005

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