One of the dozens of black-clad servers hired for philanthropic socialite Anabel’s fancy dinner party looks disturbingly familiar to her, which is clearly the effect Chiara — the daughter Anabel abandoned over 30 years ago and hasn’t seen since — intended for this surprise reappearance.
In Ramon Salazar’s unsettling reunion drama “Sunday’s Illness,” Chiara (Bárbara Lennie), sideswiped by life, wants only an agreement from Anabel (Susi Sánchez) to spend 10 days with her. Anabel, who brings in lawyers, hesitantly agrees.
Is it intended to be penance? A chance to reconnect? Or is something more sinister afoot? As these blood-related strangers circle each other warily in the dense forest home where Chiara grew up, Salazar finds plenty of emotional tension in the daughter’s games and the mom’s suspicions, before the inevitable compassion that materializes like a soft, cleansing rain.
Though better in its early, unspoken strangeness than in its later clarity of purpose, this nevertheless haunting two-hander needs great performances and gets them: from the way the actresses treat their clothes (Anabel’s costly threads, Chiara’s oversized grubbies) and words like armor to the pain that invariably breaks through their carefully composed masks.
Salazar’s deliberateness of image and tone can sometimes feel like its own archly overemphasized meaning, but it’s never less than an artfully sincere companion to the drama of missing years and reconsidered choices that fortifies “Sunday’s Illness.”
In Spanish and French with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: Starts streaming Friday on Netflix