Retro Review: Sunshine (1999)

The chronicles of a dysfunctional family over three generations.

The epic struggle of the Sonnenschein family becomes evident with the birth of Ignatz Sonnenschein (Ralph Fiennes) who falls in love with his adopted sister Valerie (Jennifer Ehle).

This controversial and taboo act plagues Ignatz as he becomes chancellor to the Emperor of Hungary.

He eventually ignores the taboo and marries his true love ignoring his father’s warnings of a curse. As Hungary enters World War I, Ignatz ends up alone and disgraced as the Emperor is overthrown by a dictatorship.

As the film uncovers the next two generations of Sonnenschein’s we begin to see the dysfunction of a troubled family and its struggle to remain together. Ralph Fiennes continues as the next two figureheads of the Sonnenshein family as they struggle through both World Wars and a complete metamorphosis of soul, morals and religion.

Sunshine is one of those period pieces heavily laced in history that would appeal to all history buffs but its message and length may become overwhelming for the average movie-goer. Ralph Fiennes continues to amaze us as he is so strong and brilliant in this film.

Director István Szabó’s sweeping camera shots and attention detail really does make us think how far will these people go. His amazing “Rocky” type fencing scenes during the Olympic Games were amazing and a real hi-light of the film.

Then in a complete reverse we are faced with a “no holds barred” Nazi torture scene that is a little hard on the eyes and stomach. Its gripping, shocking and a real test for Fiennes. Szabo covered all the extremes as the family desperately tries to change with the evolving country.

Sunshine’s main flaw has to be its ability to keep the viewer interested for 3 hours and some change. There is very little suspense or intrigue to hold the film together. Sunshine works as a family tree brought to life.

When I finished watching I wondered what the film was trying to say exactly. But I came to the conclusion that it’s detailed in the struggle.

The family’s struggle echoed and accented Hungary’s evolution from monarchy to the Iron Curtain. With the fall of the Iron Curtain there seems to be one more generation of Sonnenschien’s left to explore.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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