The fortunes of a family of Hungarian Jews are followed over the course of nearly 150 years in this epic historical drama, with leading man Ralph Fiennes playing three different roles. The story begins in the late 18th century, as Aaron and Josefa Sonnenschein (the name means "Sunshine" in German) die in an explosion while making an herb tonic for sale in their village. Their son Emmanuel (David de Keyser), the only survivor of the tragedy, travels to Budapest, carrying the recipe for the medicine with him. He's able to parlay the formula into a successful business, and Emmanuel and his wife Rose (Miriam Margolyes) raise two sons, Ignatz (Ralph Fiennes), who becomes a successful lawyer, and hot-tempered Gustave (James Frain). The Sonnenscheins also make room in their home for Valerie (Jennifer Ehle), but Emmanuel and Rose become furious when Valerie becomes romantically involved with Ignatz. Eventually, Valerie and Ignatz raise two children, Istvan (Mark Strong) and Adam (Ralph Fiennes), and the family changes its name to Sors in hopes of avoiding the anti-Semitism sweeping Europe. In time, Adam goes so far as to convert to Catholicism, and he marries another Catholic, Hannah (Molly Parker). He soon begins an affair with his brother's wife, Greta (Rachel Weisz), who is unable to persuade Adam to leave as the Nazis rise to power. Adam and Hannah have only one son, Ivan, who is fated to watch his father die in a concentration camp; as Ivan grows to adulthood (now played by Ralph Fiennes), he swears revenge on the forces of fascism and embraces Communism. Ivan throws in his lot with Communist leader Andor Knorr (William Hurt), but a liaison with the wife of a party official (Deborah Kara Unger) leads Ivan to tragic consequences and a jail term. In time, Valarie and Gustave are reunited at the family's estate as the only two members of the Sonnenschein clan who survive to witness the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Hungarian director Istvan Szabo co-wrote Sunshine's original screenplay in collaboration with American playwright Israel Horovitz. … More
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Critic Reviews for Sunshine
Much like her character holds together her family, Harris's warm and robust performance holds together Sunshine.
Sunshine has done the impossible by reinventing the concept of "high stakes," it's a marvelous treat...gripping and beautiful, twining the music of the spheres with the reptilian brain inside us all.
... a visionary odyssey with a grace and awe and visual scope that calls to mind Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey for a new millennium...
Danny Boyle's sci-fi thriller is enjoyable, well acted and packed with references throughout although it abandons its fascinating premise for a disappointingly conventional finale.
Sunshine is the definitive Jewish Experience movie. Beautifully told with heartbreaking eloquence, it is mandatory viewing if one intends to understand what it means to be a Jew living in the world.
Sunshine never gets more than an inch below the surface of the characters. Szabo keeps his stories smushed into compact little episodes, each designed to do little more than move everything forward.
The key to the film's success is Ralph Fiennes, who does a dazzling job of portraying three of the sons of the house of Sonnenschein...
Charts the ways in which many of the characters tarnish their souls through the decisions they make.
Szabo furthermore keeps a brisk, smart pace that prevents 170 minutes from ever feeling like a burden.
'Sunshine' is a Cliff's Notes on the Lessons of Assimilation which even the pre-Bar Mitzvah set will find unconvincing.
Audience Reviews for Sunshine
Definately not to be mistaken for that 2007 Danny Boyle sci-fi flick; this is "Sunshine" in '99. Sorry for that lame rhyme, but I feel as though it needs to be emphasized that this is definately not Danny Boyle's "Sunshine", seeing as how that's pretty much the only film named "Sunshine" that people actually know about. Poor Ralph Fiennes just couldn't catch a break after "The English Patient", or at least the filmmakers who worked with him after 1996 couldn't, because I can't help but feel as though the people who came after Anthony Minghella and brought Fiennes in for their period dramas were really gunning for that kind of "English Patient" success, but just ended up with a film that didn't quite make the cut and left a lot of talented performers' sacrifices of stardom to go in vain. It does seem like there was some kind of "Ralph Fiennes Curse" in the '90s, which pretty much kept such should-be big-name stars as Kristin Scott Thomas and Jennifer Ehle from really taking off, and evidently applied to people who didn't even work with Fiennes, but still had a pretty strong connection with him, because, really, as big as "Shakespeare in Love" was, when was the last time you saw Joe? Liam Neeson got lucky, because, well, come on, he's Liam Neeson and he's awesome like that, but even then, after the '90s, people kind of forgot about him here and there until he started doing action films and voicing lion gods. Shoot, that can pretty much be said about Ralph Fiennes himself, because after the '90s, pickings started to slim a bit until he went Voldemort, and that's a shame, not just because they ended up using him not much more than a handful of times in the "Harry Potter" series, but because Fiennes is too good of an actor to get stuck with little work, as this film further proves. Still, as good as Fiennes is in this, and as good as the film itself is, the final product didn't just have a hard time picking up financially.
Director and co-writer István Szabó approaches this film with the concept of covering several generations in linear order, which is daringly unique, but daring nonetheless, in that it is a tremendously dangerous method that, ever so unfortunately, botches, thus making a mess of a film, and it doesn't help that the film's story structure concept is where the originality pretty much ends. The story structure's theme is fairly inventive, but the actual story itself has been done, and in an extremely similar structural fashion, thus leaving the film to all too often collapse into story structure and storytelling conventions, complete with cliches abound amidst story progression that we're all too used to seeing laid out, though typically with a little less hurrying. The film opens up dashing through immediate development in a messy fashion that all but expels your investment for a moment, then proceeds to slow down a bit, though not enough, hurrying through plot point after plot point and slam-banging it all together with little delicacy, while leaving many potential story aspects, subplots and conflicts to come and go and leave the film's intrigue tainted. This film outdoes "Giant", as far as story hurrying is concerned, as it not only gives the audience limited time to dwell upon the primary story, but nearly no time to dwell upon conflicts and other intriguing story aspects that could have given this film more texture, thus holding back the film's bite quite a bit, and that's bad enough with any film of this type, yet what needs to be said is that this film, with all of its hurrying, is still "three hours long", and makes up for much of the time lost with repetition and too much excess material, much of which just ends up hurried out of the door anyway. The biggest missteps in the hurried story structure come in at each hour mark, when a sudden drastic shift in story focus - which present a different main character and even an almost entirely different primary story - occurs and finds itself slam-banged in with embarassing messiness that throws the film's momentum way off, and while the film's steam doesn't dissipate at tremendously uneven moments, momentum never comes back as strong as it was, due to all of the hurrying, repetition and other uneven spots, and the momentum was never really all that strong to begin with, due to all of the hurrying, repetition and other uneven spots. The film is such a mess, and I can go on all day describing the places in which it slips up with its worthy intentions, yet when it comes down to it, with all of the hurrying, repetition, bloating, unevenness and restraints in bits, the film, somewhat, transcends underwhelmingness. Don't get me wrong, this film makes it past merely decent by the hair of its nose, but makes it nonetheless, for although it is so messy, the film's flaws, while immense, don't quite deliver a deep enough impression to drown out the many things that this film does get right, and just right enough for the final product to sustain your investment more often than not.
The production values of the film are nothing short of remarkable, reconstructing the late 19th century and most of the 20th century with impressive authenticity and dynamicity that showcases gradual changes in the era in a believable yet dazzling fashion that is both enjoyably fascinating to watch and breathes life into this world, so much so that it's hard to find yourself entirely disengaged, no matter how much the film's story takes blows from faulty plotting. The film's production values don't make a tremendous difference in the overall quality of the final product, yet they do leave more of an impression than you would think, giving the film a kind of livliness that catches your attention, though not as much as an aspect whose messy handling makes this film as flawed as it is, but general being helps in making this film as ultimately good as it is: the story. Now, the structure and telling of this story, as I've said time and again, is an absolute mess, but the subject matter itself, is immensely intriguing, being familiar and sometimes redundant, but nevertheless strong and mostly dynamic, with depth and themes so strong, conceptually, that it's hard to fall out of this film, no matter how messy the execution of such a worthy story is, and much of that is due to, well, what writers István Szabó and Israel Horovitz and Szabó's direction do get right, and very right indeed. The screenplay is structured ever so messily, with exposition taking quite the blow, yet what exposition there is really does strike deep into the story and characters, fleshing them out just enough to earn your investment, which goes further intensified by moments in Szabó's direction that are dramatically inspired enough to carry through to the rest of the film. The film is a mess of restrained oomph and sloppy storytelling, yet on the whole, this film stands as a bit of a testament to how directing and storytelling don't always have to go hand-in-hand, because what Szabó lacks in storytelling comfort, he all but makes up for in atmospheric comfort, thus elevating this film, well, hardly past underwhelming. No, ladies and gentlemen, what gives the final product that extra push is an aspect that never ceases to impress and never ceases to carry this film through thick and thin: the acting, which, in all fairness, isn't graced with ceaseless material, yet still just enough for our performers to have more than a few golden moments amidst consistent gripping charisma in which they shine, so much so that they define this film and make up for most every false move, with leading man Ralph Fiennes especially stepping up in his portraying, not one, but three characters, all of whom are directly related, yet remain distinct, something that Fiennes conveys effortlessly by transforming into each one of his characters ever so profoundly, while keeping consistent with charisma, sweeping emotional range and the capturing of the depths of the characters into whom he transforms, whether it be Ignatz Sonnenschein - an ambitious man looking for success and satisfaction in both himself and his loved ones -, Adam Sors - a strong-willed and good-hearted man who finds his good intentions and spirit challenged to no end -, or Ivan Sors - an also firm and strong, yet vulnerable man making a steady and bumpy return to reality after undergoing crushing trauma that also left his worthy intentions tainted by immense disdain and a lust for closure by any means necessary -, thus making Fiennes a leading force to be reckoned with who carries the film, but not without the help of the many other talents found within this cast, all of whom make his or her charm all the sharper with sparkling chemistry. Acting material is often underwritten, thus leaving many performances to come off not as phenomenal as I'm making them sound, so you'd think that the acting wouldn't be enough for this film to transcend its many missteps, but really, I exaggerate not when I say that these performers - restrained though, they may be - really do carry this film a long way, as the film is often slow, yet never dull, for the charisma within the cast is intense enough to create consistent entertainment value, and the film's substance is, as I've said time again, tainted to no end by such immensely messy storytelling, yet does not ring false, not just because the story is so worthy or because director István Szabó has his fair share of inspired moments, but because the performances grace the film with such piercing depth and spirit that keeps the film going through and through, with moments in which it really cuts deep, thus making the film, if nothing else, an acting piece that succeeds just enough for the sprawling mess of a final product, as a whole, to transcend total underwhelmingness by a hair, yet transcend total underwhelmingness nevertheless.
Overall, the film's concept of tackling several generations in linear order is brilliantly unique, but botches in execution, not just because much of the uniqueness is diluted by endless story conventions and cliches, but because the film finds itself hurrying rapidly along through its points, abandoning subplots and potentially strong story aspects, partially for the sake of repetition and excess material, yet just ends up slipping up when it finally reaches its major story switches, which are jarring and convolute the film's focus, thus restraining the film's impact further and leaving the final product to run the risk of collapsing into total underwhiningness, something that amazingly never comes, for although the film is a hopeless mess, it goes supported by attractively well-done production values, elevated by strong moments in execution of the very strong story and ultimately secured as good by a myriad of colorful, spirited and winning performances, the strongest of which being by Ralph Fiennes, whose charismatic, soulful and seamless transformation into three distinct main characters sparks immense livliness that, when married with the massive collection of other film-carrying performances, helps the most in making "Sunshine" a thoroughly entertaining, often resonant and ultimately worthwhile film, regardless of ceaseless storytelling faults.
3/5 - Good
Sunshine was a wonderful movie that followed four generations of a Jewish Hungarian family through seventy troubled years of Hungarian history.I felt pleased with the idea of Ralph Fiennes playing multiple roles.Each character he played was different and separate from the rest.Ignatz reached the top of society and decided to change their surname into Sors, in order to fit in the society.Adam was a famous fencer and Olympic Gold medalist,while Ivan was full of desire for revenge and idealism, against the communists. This was a long movie and I was happy to spend a couple of hours seeing this superb piece of work.More
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