[box cover]

Sunshine

It's surprising that director Istvan Szabo (Mephisto) wrote the original screenplay for Sunshine — the 1999 film plays like an epic novel, but it's so full of details that it practially overlooks its raison d'etre. In Sunshine Ralph Fiennes plays three generations of the Sonnenschein family (which in Hungarian means "sunshine"): grandfather Ignatz, father Adam, and son (and narrator) Ivan, following them through 70 years of Hungarian history, as the Jewish family members are forced to deny their heritage to survive in early 20th century Europe. Episodic in nature, each story in Sunshine shows the men falling in love, but also compromised by their jobs and lovers — to get promoted, Judge Ignatz is asked to change his last name from Sonnenschein to Sors; to get on the Olympic fencing team, Adam converts from Judiasm to Catholicism; and Ivan, who works for the communists in prosecuting Nazi sympathizers, is asked to turn on his superior (William Hurt) because he might have Jewish sympathies. Szabo's film — running three hours — covers both world wars, and offers a compelling portrait of European anti-Semitism, but unfortunately it works best only in moments. Engaging enough to sit through, Sunshine never builds to anything great enough to deserve its epic length, and matters are not helped by Fiennes playing all three Sonnenscheins — when he shows up for the third time, it feels like a joke, like Fiennes might wink at the camera (something hard to dismiss since only facial hair is used to distinguish each role). The themes of love, sex, and patriotism in a changing Europe worked well for Milan Kundera and filmmaker Phillip Kaufman in 1988's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but here those same themes are so self-evident and flacid that it never pays off. Nonetheless, the cast is excellent (including Rachel Wiesz, Rosemary Harris, Deborah Kara Unger, John Neville, and Miriam Margolyes). For Masterpiece Theater fans only. Paramount's DVD release of Sunshine features a lush anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1) and audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. No extras. Keep-case.
—DSH



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