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SUNSHINE

SYNOPSIS:
Sunshine traces three generations of the Sonnenschein family from the late 19th century to the present. Ivan Sonnenschen (Ralph Fiennes) narrates the story which begins with his great-grandfather Emmanuelle, a Hungarian Jew who established the family fortune with a secret recipe for an elixir called A Taste Of Sunshine. Emmanuelle's son Ignatz (Ralph Feinnes) abandons family tradition, becoming a judge and creating deep divisions by falling in love with his cousin Valerie (Jennifer Ehle), who has been raised as his sister. Ignatz' son Adam (Ralph Fiennes) becomes a champion fencer in the Hungarian national team of the 30's; converting to Christianity and changing his name as anti-Semitic sentiment rises. After witnessing the horrors of war Adam's son Ivan becomes a police investigator involved in the witch-hunt of anti-Soviet dissidents before dramatic events leading to the 1956 uprising force him to question his beliefs.

"Collaborating for the first time, Istvan Szabo and Israel Horovitz have taken the original – ultra-long - screenplay in Hungarian and reworked it into this shorter English version which gives the film an accessibility it truly deserves in English speaking countries. You might assume that three hours is still long, but only until you see the film – which I strongly urge you to do. Sunshine is the unutterably sad story of how ‘ideals that turn into crimes’ – this century’s European history of isms – impact on individual people. It is an emotional tour de force unlike any film I know that takes its historical facts seriously and presents them as part of a family’s everyday life. This feeling is obviously much heightened for those who, like me, experienced any part of Hungary’s history, and know of its past. But that doesn’t diminish Szabo’s (and his team’s) craftsmanship, the script’s powerful resonance, the exceptional ensemble performances from a stunning cast and Jarre’s sublime score, all of which combine to heartwrenching effect. Two world wars and a popular revolution crowded into the 40 years between 1918 and 1956. The cycle of feverish political movements which promise refuge from oppression and true happiness for all, is devestatingly portrayed here and the systems for the sham they all are: after the Monarchy (1867-1918) came Fascism (1920-1944), followed quickly by Communism (1945-1989), each a reaction to the one before it, and each as brutal, as oppressive as the last. And Jews were not the only ones who suffered. But knowing that is one, pale thing: feeling it, through the experience of characters you get to know and understand, is quite a shattering other. There are some scenes that will haunt me forever; the family around the radio as the Nazi laws against Jews are read out. Another is Adam’s hideous death at the hands of anti-semetic Hungarian soldiers in a concentration camp. Fiennes is stretched to his brilliant peak as Ignatz, Adam and Ivan, grandfather, father and son, the latter finally finding ‘the gift of breathing freedom’, by being true to one’s identity."
Andrew L. Urban

"Sunshine is more than just a well upholstered and well acted multigenerational Euro epic. It is a film about ideas and ideologies; rare commodities in contemporary cinema dominated by style at the expense of substance. Istvan Szabo's new film is one of his finest works as it charts the effect of tumultuous events on individuals with the same kind of impact that made his 1981 Oscar-winner Mephisto unforgettable. Here the canvas is broader and just as impressively handled as the shifts in Europe's political landscape during the 20th century are personalised by the experiences of a Hungarian Jewish family whose fortunes change radically when it abandons the secret elixir which has made it financially and morally wealthy. The recipe for "A Taste Of Sunshine" acts as a potent metaphor for the changing fortunes of the Sonnenscheins; its abandonment and loss by generations intent on loftier pursuits acting as a symbol of the family's spiritual decline and loss of identity. Ralph Fiennes is in his element and brilliant as the three Sonnenscheins; this is a film requiring masterful performances and Fiennes delivers threefold. His face is the perfect vehicle for the dreams and ambitions of men caught up in the sweeping events of the century as Empire gives way to Nazism and finally Communism. Szabo and co-writer Israel Horovitz treat each of these political movements rigorously; addressing them in the idealised terms of manifestos and party rhetoric before exposing the corrosion beneath and the human toll left in the wake of bastardised ideals. This is story telling on a grand scale and not to be missed."
Richard Kuipers

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

See Andrew L. Urban's interview with

ISTVAN SZABO

See Brad Green's
SOUNDTRACK REVIEW
with audio excerpts

SUNSHINE (MA)
(Austria/ Canada/ Germany/ Hungary)

CAST: Ralph Fiennes, Rosemary Harris, Rachel Weisz, Jennifer Ehle, William Hurt, Miriam Margolyes, Deborah Kara Unger

DIRECTOR: Istvan Szabo

PRODUCER: Robert Lantos, Andras Hamori

SCRIPT: Istvan Szabo, Israel Horovitz

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lajos Koltai

EDITOR: Michael Arcand, Dominique Fortin

MUSIC: Maurice Jarre

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Attila Kovacs

RUNNING TIME: 180 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pictures

VIDEO RELEASE: June 22, 2001







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