Not enough credit is given to the tried and true sub-genre of ‘friends/family take a weekend break and all their secrets are revealed’. The set up can literally be anywhere, as long as the drama takes place in a single location, with (usually) a small group of close friends. Over the course of the film, the friends bond, argue, betray as secrets come out of the woodwork. Sunburn follows the same pattern, but instead of secrets being revealed to each other, it is us, the audience who are slowly fed information. What also sets the film apart from others that have come before it is the missing main character. The mysterious ‘other’ who was not invited to the weekend away, the person who everyone is connected to, they are the climax we won’t get to see but we’ll learn a great deal about, they are the plot.
Written and directed by Vicente Alves do Ó, the film takes place over the course of a beautiful sunny day in the Portuguese countryside. Four close friends gather to enjoy a weekend of drinks, food and fun but when they contacted by David, announcing he is on his way to join them, the light hearted mood vanishes as they await his arrival. The past is dredged up, secrets are revealed and old heartbreaks turn to fresh wounds as time goes by under the hot sun.
Secrets and lies are what holds films such as Sunburn together but in this case, it is all just about one man, David. Never appearing on screen, only a voiceover speaking to one of the characters or possibly all of them. From the minute the four friends each receive a phone call from the mysterious David, each with a different reaction, at first hints how the story will play out. This is how the film builds its tension throughout, with hints, vague confirmation and most of the time, left to the audience to decide the true nature of each relationship, past and present. The group’s sexual fluidity is not a driving plot point, nor is it really the focus if the story, which is actually very refreshing. It is part of the characters, following their desires and is not even topic of their own conversations. The four friends each have their own problem to deal with but the final reveal of secrets is half-heartedly revealed, not paying off the tension created throughout, making this 82 minute long film much longer. The atmosphere of the film doesn’t quite match the molasses slow pace.
The film at times feels as if it could have been a play. With four complex characters and a mysterious fifth who is heard, talked about constantly but never seen. Having a character such as David gives this sub-genre of film a new twist and the fact that sex is discussed and shown but sexuality is not the subject, sets Sunburn apart. But ultimately, the not so shocking revelations make the this a drama without dramatics which is a shame after an intriguing beginning.
Dir: Vicente Alves do Ó
Scr: Vicente Alves do Ó
DoP: Luís Branquinho
Running time: 82 minutes
Sunburn is being screening at BFI Flare 21st – 31st March