Film Review – Sunday’s Illness (2018)
Arriving without fanfare on Netflix, Ramón Salazar’s La Enfermedad del Domingo (Sunday’s Illness) reveals itself to be an exquisite treasure not to be missed. Elegantly rendered, and realized with two extraordinary acting performances, this melancholic family drama looks set to put the director firmly on the map.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Ramón Salazar
Written By: Ramón Salazar
Starring: Bárbara Lennie and Susi Sánchez
Language: Spanish and French with English sub-titles
The film centers around the strained reunion of an estranged mother and daughter. The mother, Anabel (Suzi Sanchez), left her husband and abandoned her eight year old daughter 35 years earlier. Played by Bárbara Lennie, the daughter Chiara appears unexpectedly to disturb Anabel’s privileged life in Barcelona. She requests her mother travel to France, where they will spend 10 days together at their former family home.
Anabel has married again and enjoys an opulent and high-profile lifestyle. She and her husband, unnerved by Chiara’s unexpected demand, engage a lawyer to insist she sign a contract before Anabel will agree to go with her.
The story then follows the two women as they navigate the complexities of their damaged relationship and Anabel struggles to decipher the real reason her daughter wants her there.
Sunday’s Illness first appeared at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2018. The movie played in the Panorama section of the Berlinale rather than the main competition. According to the festival notes; Panorama showcases “artistic vision, the courage to be different, a desire for the unfamiliar”.
The Spanish Director, Ramón Salazar, is known for 20 Centimeters (2005), 10,000 Noches en Ninguna Parte (2013) and Stones (2002). He received a Goya nomination for Best New Director for Stones in 2013.
A Two-Hander In Safe Hands
The two female leads carry equal weight in this movie. Both Suzi Sanchez and Barbara Lennie turn in incredible performances where frequent silences are as powerful as the dialogue.
Sanchez has collaborated with Salazar previously on 10,000 Noches en Ninguna Parte for which she gained a 2014 Goya nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She plays Anabel as stoic and composed while being utterly confused about what her daughter wants from her. The character says little but we are aware of the fluidity of her emotions and uncertainty as it manifests in her expression and movement.
Barbara Lennie is having a busy year, appearing in the opening night film of the Cannes Festival, Everyone Knows (2018), alongside Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. She has four movies coming out in 2018 and another completed project due to release in 2019. It’s not difficult to understand this success; in Sunday’s Illness her performance is jaw-droppingly good. Lennie’s intensely vulnerable portrayal of the damaged Chiara, is both heart-wrenching and nerve-wracking. The uncertainty of her motives creates a layer of threat that hangs like the fog that surrounds the farmhouse.
A Hint Of What’s To Come
The opening scene shows Anabel, immaculately turned out for a formal dinner, walking with authority through her palatial home. She catches her heel in her gown and stumbles, glancing around to see if anyone has noticed. This simple scene starts the movie off with a sense that there are chinks in the glamorous armor and Anabel is painfully aware that all is not well.
The first thing you notice about Sunday’s Illness is how beautiful it is. Every scene and costume choice is curated and crafted for wonderous aesthetics. Anabel’s wardrobe is achingly chic, contrasting with Chiara’s uncared for look. In this movie, the costume design of Clara Bilbao helps to tell the story. As Anabel softens, she gradually sheds her immaculate appearance. Chiara’s oversized and dated choices reflect how her life became stuck at the time her mother left.
At times, the film appears like a series of paintings; each sequence carefully composed. The surrounding scenery features strongly; moodily captured with lengthy, slow-moving shots.
The interiors of Anabel’s glittering mansion and a restaurant where she dines with her family illustrate a contrast with the ancient farmhouse where the action happens.
A Creeping Suspense
Chiara gives her mother no clues about the purpose of her stay. The result is a deafening tension that builds as Anabel becomes increasingly disoriented and her deliberate attempts to rattle her mother betray Chiara’s cultivated resentments.
A scene where Chiara brings home a dog she says was abandoned down a well, is both pitiful and spine-chilling.
The film manages to convey an emotionally complex dynamic with sparse dialogue. In one scene the pair attend the local carnival together. Poignantly, Anabel watches her daughter joyfully ride the carousel alone. Later she is forced to rescue her from a groping, drunken encounter with a stranger on the dance floor. The film explores the nature and power of parental connection in these intense scenes.
In another shot, the women ride a monorail through the forest at high speed. There is no speaking but the astonishingly acted scene provides a revealing metaphor for their contrasting lives.
Themes of Death
Death features throughout the film adding to the unsettling undertone. When Chiara discovers a wounded bird at the lake we get a glimpse into her psyche. Death features again in a startling scene where Anabel visits the local cemetery to visit the grave of Chiara’s father.
I was riveted by this movie and can only complain that it is not available to view on the big screen. Some viewers might be put off by the gentle pace and sub-titles. But, in this case, it’s good to be tied to the screen to read the titles to avoid being distracted. Because, once drawn in, you will not want to miss a moment of this masterpiece.
I’m going to call it now and say I would not be surprised to see Sunday’s Illness recognized at Oscar time.
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