Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard ★★★★½

A Century of Cinema Challenge: 1950

Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard is a beautifully scathing commentary on the brutality of the Hollywood industry, sprinkled with touches of black comedy and satire. It's one of those films who's reputation precedes it, and there's not much for me to say that hasn't already been said to death about this classic. So I'll be brief.

Sunset Boulevard is an example of near perfect storytelling complete with an unorthodox narrator. On top of that, Wilder presents us characters that actually have some substance. Holden's Joe Gillis is not a stupid man, merely down on his luck, and because of this allows himself to be manipulated and trapped by Swanson's glorious Norma Desmond, one of the most iconic characters to ever grace the screen, who is both repulsive and sympathetic. I don't think I've seen such passion and fire in an actor's eyes since Maria Falconetti's performance in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Gillis and Desmond's chemistry (or rather, lack thereof) makes for some spectacular scenes. I will admit that I found some of Sunset Boulevard's melodrama tiresome, but I'm not a big fan of melodrama to begin with. I certainly found it less aggressive than in some films.

And what can I say about that incredible set? Desmond's dilapidated mansions is simultaneously eerie and beautiful, perpetually draped in shadow, the perfect tomb for a forgotten star. I also loved the way the camera dances around this empty palace, lingering on the signs of faded glory and Desmond's supreme vanity.

Sunset Boulevard is classic, and anyone who would argue against that is just wrong. Plain and simple.

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