Monday, July 9, 2007

Sunshine...not very bright

Sunshine - Istvan Szabo - 1999 - 4/10


Sunshine follows a Hungarian-Jewish family lhrough three generations, around the turn of nineteenth century. The family's patriarch rises from nothing, aided by his spectacular miracle drink he calls "Sunshine" after the family name, Sonnenschein, which means sunshine. The story begins to follow the patriarch's favorite son, Ignatz (Ralph Fiennes) becomes a fast rising judge who faces serious questions about his Jewish name when Ignatz begins to rise through the court ranks. Drama heightens when Ignatz's family's pressures him not to marry the woman who becomes his wife (Jennifer Ehle) and the radical communist antics of his brother. World War I comes and Ignatz goes to war, only to come back bitter and estranged from the love of his life. The film then begins to follows Ignatz's son Adam (Ralph Fiennes) who becomes a great fencer under the tutelage of his brother. In order to make the next step and make the Hungarian national team, to compete for an Olympic gold, Adam has to decide whether he can continue as a Jew, or as a Hungarian. Everything comes tumbling down as World War II starts to rumble and anti-Semitism sparks to new highs. The family is separated, torn apart, and thinned out, and only Ivan remains, finally returning home to live with his grandmother (Rosemary Harris taking over from Jennifer Ehle). Fueled by anger over what some of his countrymen did to his family, Ivan becomes a Communist Party secret policeman and quickly rises through the ranks. Sure, there's some time for each character to get all introspective, but its not really part of the plot.


The movie looks really good - a sort of (I'm using this term generously) faster paced combination of Giant and Dr. Zhivago. Giant's whole deal was the three generations and Dr. Zhivago had the whole, "I lived through everything," but in a boring way, unlike the amusing portrayals of historical events in Forest Gump and Little Big Man. Unfortunately, Sunshine seems to have learned little from Giant and Zhivago because the movie is like a carbon copy - it has almost exactly the same progression and events that Zhivago does and all the extra drama of Giant (but with a lot more explicit sex). Beyond the close connections to two of the most overrated, most boring, overlong movies - Sunshine tries too hard to express themes the movie just doesn't have time for. Critics and fans and even the writers seem to think the movie is about "identity" and "loyalty" and "religion" and I can kind of see that. But those are themes that receive cursory screen time. The whole, "we have to make sacrifices to get what we want" falls flat pretty quickly because there is little debate, little hesitation before sacrifices are made, so its tough to tell if the characters were actually even torn between two choices. Another thing that makes this movie hard to get into is that none of the protagonists (Ralph Fiennes plays all three) are particulalry sympathetic. Some of them are downright disgusting. They engage in questionable sexual practices, sever their family and cultural ties at will, seem to be easily swayed by those currently in power...the list goes on. When a character dies, you almost breath relief because you know there are only three, and when one goes down, you know the movie is closer to finishing.


If you don't have to see this movie, you probably don't want to.

If you liked this movie, see...
...Dr. Zhivago
...Enemy at the Gates

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