The film follows a Jewish family living in Hungary through three generations, rising from humble beginnings to positions of wealth and power in the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire. The patriarch becomes a prominent judge but is torn when his government sanctions anti-Jewish persecutions. His son converts to Christianity to advance his career as a champion fencer and Olympic hero, but is caught up in the Holocaust. Finally, the grandson, after surviving war, revolution, loss and betrayal, realizes that his ultimate allegiance must be to himself and his heritage. Written by
The great elements of Sunshine for me far outweighed the negative ones. I admit a few things: I would like to have seen the ending be Sors III's speech at Knorr's funeral (and the f*** you against the officer), then the scene of him walking down the alley with that final monologue. That would have left a far more memorabel mark, but the way the ending was done was too far extended. The first forty minutes also seem such weak costume drama compared to the intensity of the next two hours that they should have been vigorously cut. Third, the sex scenes- why so repetitive and abrupt? I love seeing Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) and Deborah Kara Unger (Crash) in ecstasy as much as anyone, but it got to be almost boring. Fourth- the music and cinematography seemed rather dull.
However, once we get past these flaws, Sunshine is a great, powerful work about dignity and how we value ourselves within a society that rejects us. I am an American Irish Catholic, so I have not felt the oppression of minorities, thankfully, nor have the last few generations of my family.
I thank Mr. Fiennes and Szabo for showing how each one of the Sonnenschein men struggle for dignity and purpose within the system, yet they fail each time to give joy primacy in their lives. Every time, the system they so revere would put people second and ideology first (read review of Michael Collins.) Valery knew the value of seeking joy, and thankfully she passes that on to her grandson, who survived the utter misery of the Stalinist regime.
This film shows such brutality at one moment that I cracked open in the theater (those who have seen the film know the moment I refer to.) However, I did not find it excessive- rather it was absolutely essential to showing the depths of the personal horror that the Sors went through in the Holocaust. As Knorr says, "Surviving Aushwitz does not make you a bigger or a greater man. It only gets burned into your brain." The film does not expertly reveal relationships between men and women, besides Valery and Ignatz's tryst, but I felt it detailed the faults and promises of each political regime very well, based on what I've read.
Fiennes should get another Oscar nod for this, as should Rosemary Harris for best supporting actress. What infuriates me is that Sunshine will never get to the major theatres, the way we're now measuring films like they were race horses instead of creative efforts. I don't know why it is we now feel only the most simple, light, corny and action-crammed films can go into the multiplexes (albeit many of those films good ones.) This is great, provocative entertainment worth spreading around. Like American History X, Sunshine certainly has its faults, but its messages about tolerance, humanity, and redemption are glorious.
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