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Sunshine (Istvan Szabo) 2000 

Sunshine, Istvan Szaboís three-hour epic retelling of twentieth-century Hungarian history through the filter of one Jewish familyís experiences is a sprawling attractive thing, but you really want it to be a bit more perceptive and clearheaded about the struggle that it shows. The obvious scorn that it has toward any action by its cast that is a less than complete celebration of their heritage makes even Olympic victories feel like a bit of a downer, since they donít have a Torah waving sense of pride about them. The film adopts the perspective of its narrator, who, telling his story from 1960 as he does, obviously has a different take on his ancestorsí decisions and compromises than they did. When they change their names, itís understandable given the circumstances, but the narrative treats it as a grave injustice that has to be punished. As such, the film seems to present even the eventual, inevitable Holocaust as deserved retribution. It almost suggests that since the Jews didnít fight harder to preserve their traditions and conceded their community, they were inviting such a rape of their race. The funny thing is that this sense of Jewish guilt is the strongest feeling in the movie. It even seems to overcome both the passion the movie uses to damn the various oppressors of the family and the various romantic entanglements that float throughout the movie. Surely, complacency shouldnít be praised, but the family in the film is hardly a sad sack of individuals, so when the movie suggests none of them ever felt a whiff of true happiness that seems a bit like overstatement. 

Perhaps itís because the film has a European director that things feel like a bit of a downer. Maybe my American sensibilities are simply scoffing at a director that doesnít elevate his persecuted heroes to an untouchable moral high ground, but in any the case, it doesnít make for an enjoyable film. Thereís little else here to help. The filmís cast is anchored by Ralph Fiennes who plays a role in each of the filmís three eras. His acting is solid enough, but itís nowhere near his best performance. Thereís little thatís very distinct about each of his incarnations beyond his shrinking facial hair. The most noteworthy performance otherwise is delivered by Rachel Weisz, who invigorates a good portion of the filmís best and second hour with a feisty sense of rebellion. Otherwise, for all of the carnality on screen, little of it feels exhilarating enough to transgress the doldrums that set in. Despite a general sense of quality that permeates throughout, Sunshine is an exercise in austerity that is too busy underlining its own gravity to achieve any sort of sweep or magnitude, no matter how much ground it covers. 



Jeremy Heilman