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 i
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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
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