Sunshine


Directed by: Istvan Szabo
Written by: Istvan Szabo, Israel Horovitz
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rosemary Harris, Rachel Weisz, Jennifer Ehle, Molly Parker, Deborah Kara Unger, William Hurt
Released: December 26, 2000
Grade: A-

Consensus says that 2000 has been a poor year for cinema but that statement may be limited to the United States.  One could claim this past year has been one of culture and diversity.  From Europe we’ve had such films as A Pornographic Affair and All About My Mother.  From Asia we’ve caught Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  From England we’ve had East Is East, Topsy-Turvy and Billy Elliot.  Even from Australia we’ve seen Better Than Sex and Looking For Alibrandi.  Now from Hungary, we have the latest from Istvan Szabo, Sunshine.

Sunshine pans many years and is the story of the Sonnenschein family.  Told from the perspective of the latest son, the film begins with his great grandfather and works its way through the family.  From developing marketable alcoholic drinks, to competing at the Olympics, to spending time in a Nazi concentration camp, to loving and losing time and again, the fictional Sonnenschein story unfolds.

68-year-old Szabo based much of the film on his own experiences in Hungary growing up which is clearly evident.  Politically, Hungary has been unstable all throughout the 20th Century and Szabo uses this as a backdrop to his stories.  Rather than “force feeding” us history, he tells it in an attractive way - an immense relief given the film’s three hour duration.

No expense has been spared and the production is lavish.  Much has been created to give the appearance of the respective time frames.  Interestingly enough, the house used as the family home in the film was actually the same house Szabo grew up in as a youth.

Whilst an outstanding film, the “over use” of Ralph Fiennes is irritating.  Given the film stretches for almost a century, different actors are used at the different ages of their lives.  However, Fiennes plays the middle-aged version of the grandfather, father and son.  It is annoying as all three characters look too similar and it doesn’t match the style of the film.  On an interesting side note, there is a character known as Valerie to which Jennifer Ehle plays the younger version and Rosemary Harris plays the older.  In fact, Harris is actually Ehle’s mother - definitely better casting from Szabo.

In many ways, Sunshine reminded me of a great film that won the foreign language Oscar in 1995, Antonia’s Line.  Journeys through generations make interesting viewing, especially when set across famous time frames.  Few are familiar with Hungary and it’s political upheaval but Sunshine shows all on a world stage.  Just don’t take the kids.