Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Rosemary Harris, Rachel Weisz, Jennifer Ehle, Deborah Kara Unger
Genre: Drama, History, Romance
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 181 minutes
Although Sunshine was made by a Hungarian, István Szabó, and deals with the history of Hungary as refracted through three generations of a Jewish-Hungarian family, you might be more inclined to give it three hours of your own life if you approach it as a David Lean movie in spirit. It is an English-language picture, and Maurice Jarre's music recalls his score for Doctor Zhivago. Szabó emulates Lean's intimate-epic style of merging the sweep of history with the crystalline detailing of individual lives, so that the shape of destiny is glimpsed through personal moments that feel at once evanescent and eternal. His lighting cameraman, Lajos Koltai, is one of the handful of cinematographers equal to capturing these moments in lapidary images--cinematic sunshine of the highest order. "Sunshine" is a literal translation of Sonnenschein, the family name of the central characters. And "destiny" is one meaning of Sors, the name three Sonnenschein offspring choose for themselves to better assimilate as subjects of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Two are brothers, Ignatz (Ralph Fiennes) and Gustave (James Frain); their sister (by adoption) Valerie (Jennifer Ehle) is really their cousin. Both men love her, and Ignatz rocks the ultratraditional family by taking her as his wife. Nevertheless, the Sonnenscheins and the Sors enter upon the 20th century in loving solidarity, grateful to live under a liberal and tolerant regime. That's all swept away by the Great War, the rise of Nazism, and its replacement, the new fascism of Stalinist Communism. Valerie survives them all--though she's played later on by Rosemary Harris, Ehle's own mother. For his part--or parts--Ralph Fiennes goes on to embody two later generations of Sonnenschein/Sors men, the proudly patriotic Adam and his son, the rudderless Ivan, whose guilt over being a compliant prisoner at Auschwitz leads him to buy into the passionate puritanism of the Stalinist purges. Fiennes rises to the awesome challenge of creating three utterly distinct characters who all share the same congenital weaknesses and aching potential for greatness. This is a film of considerable beauty and sometimes shattering power. Even three hours is not enough to do justice to all the characters, all the wrenching turnarounds of history and political allegiance and rectitude. But the film is never less than gripping, and as an essay on "family values," it's well-nigh definitive. --Richard T. Jameson
You are entering a new world where you will certainly be successful because you have knowledge. Study has always been our religious duty as jews. Our exclusion from society has given us an ability to adapt to others and to sense connections between things that seem diverse. But if you feel you have power, you are mistaken. If you feel you have the right to put yourself ahead of others because you think you know more than they do, you are wrong. Never allow yourself to be driven into the sin of conceit. Conceit is the greatest of sins. The source of all other sins.
Never give up your religion. Not for God. God is present in all religions. But if your life becomes a struggle for acceptance, you'll always be unhappy. Religion may not be perfect, but it is a well-built boat that can stay balanced and carry you to the other shore. Our life is nothing but a boat adrift on water balanced by permanent uncertainty. About the people whom you will judge, know this; all they do is struggle to find a kind of security. They're just people, like us. Therefore you mustn't judge them on the basis of appearance or hearsay. Trust no one. Examine all things yourself. Do not join with power. Despise all rank. Do not be ostentatious with what is yours. Owning possessions and property ultimately comes to nothing. Possessions and property can be consumed by fire, swept away by flood, taken away by politics. Do not undertake what you do not know. This causes anxiety which makes you ill. Exercise discipline.
For the first time in my life, I walked down the street without feeling like I was in hiding. My great grandfather Emmanuel must have been the last Sonnenschein to feel like this. I knew the only way to find meaning in my life, my only chance in life, would be to account for it. My grandmother's words return to me; "Try to photograph what's beautiful in life." By the time I finish this story, the third tragic misadventure of the 20th century was over. After the monarchy and fascist rule, the communist regime also went up in smoke. I remembered the recipe book that we had lost and suddenly realized that the family secret was not to be found on its pages. It was preserved by my grandmother. The only one in our family who had the gift of breathing freely.