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Paramount Studios presents
Sunshine (2000)

"Surviving Auschwitz doesn't make a man better or greater; it's just burnt into your brain. It can never be erased! That's the problem."
- Andor Knorr (William Hurt)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: May 06, 2001

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Rosemary Harris, Rachel Weisz, Jennifer Ehle
Other Stars: Deborah Kara Unger, Molly Parker, William Hurt
Director: Istivan Szabo

MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, and for violence, language, and nudity
Run Time: 03h:00m:23s
Release Date: May 08, 2001
UPC: 097363388043
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In the horrible death camp at Auschwitz, a prominent Hungarian officer with a Jewish background stands proudly in defiance of the German soldiers. Wearing his army uniform, he still believes in his country and states his name and accomplishments to his captors. Within minutes, his image is destroyed: in a terrifying display, the soldiers remove his clothes, beat him senseless, hang him from a tree and casually murder him in startling fashion. This callous and deplorable act is one of innumerous atrocities committed towards a once-proud Jewish family in Sunshine—Istivan Szabo's beautiful, yet haunting depiction of a struggle to remain afloat against oppressive regimes. Covering three generations of the Sonnenschein (Sunshine) family, this film chronicles their struggle to retain their identity against the anti-Semitism of 20th-century Hungary. This film covers personal issues, but its scope is much larger and connects with the changes to the whole of Jewish culture during this modern era. Narrated by Ivan, the most recent member, the story looks back at the golden age of the family represented by his great-grandfather, Emmanuel Sonnenschein (David de Keyser). The family business involved the creation and sale of the "Taste of Sunshine,"a delicious drink with a specific recipe, but it has little importance in this new world; their pure creation cannot exist within the oppressive ways of the 20th century that caused Jews to push back their identity.

Ralph Fiennes (Quiz Show, The English Patient) stars in three completely different roles across the generations of this family. He plays young Ivan; his father and Olympic fencing champion Adam, and his grandfather Ignatz, a prominent judge . It's intriguing to witness how each character must assimilate with the dominant culture in order to survive and gain success. Unfortunately, even after removing their individuality, they still suffer for their Jewish background. Ignatz must change his last name to Sors, a more Hungarian name, in order to achieve a premier judgeship. Adam is the greatest fencer in Hungary, but he can only join the top team by converting to Catholicism. Although for him it serves as a means to an end, it still represents the continual shunning of the Sonnenschein heritage. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching betrayal comes from Ivan, who must interrogate his own friend and superior about a Zionist conspiracy under the paranoia of a new Communist regime. While all three characters merge with the predominant culture, the pattern continues to repeat itself, with disturbing consequences.

Although the story focuses on the three men, the pivotal figure is Valerie Sonnenschein (Jennifer Ehle)—a beautiful, headstrong girl who lives through all the generations. An exciting woman with fiery red hair, she represents the life and energy missing from the young men in the family. Played at a later age by Rosemary Harris (Ehle's mother), Valerie retains her identity and lives her way throughout the century. Near the end of her life, she observes that countless regimes may rise and fall, but it remains the same for their people. This is the key message of this poignant story, which strikes a chord through its horrifying reality.

This lengthy film succeeds due to the efforts of an extensive cast of talented actors who give everything to their difficult performances. Fiennes does a nice job in conveying the differences of the three characters, and injects plenty of real emotion into each role. Ehle (Pride and Prejudice) is stunning as the young Valerie, and it's easy to understand the passion she ignites in Ignatz. Although his role is limited, William Hurt gives one of the best performances of his career as Andor Knorr, a Jew working for the Communists to prosecute the Nazis. His interrogation scene with Fiennes is the best in the film and is haunting in its honesty and emotional impact. Molly Parker (Center of the World) and Rachel Weisz (Enemy at the Gates) also do well with limited roles as love interests for Fiennes.

Sunshine features stunning scenes of marvelous beauty that sharply contrast with the troubling events that take place. Director Istivan Szabo utilizes amazing, long, awe-inspiring shots of both natural elements and the grand creations of humans. He also uses deft color schemes to convey the emotional content of the story. Within the offices of Knorr, the bleak, green walls possess no life and match the feelings of his superiors. One the film's most impressive images occurs during the Nazi radio address announcing new restrictions on Jews: while the characters sit in motionless interest, an eerie, glorious green tint covers the words and presents a foreboding aura over the events to come.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: There are countless memorable scenes of visual splendor and this wonderful transfer showcases all this beauty in fine form. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is virtually devoid of any defects or grain, and features sparkling, bright colors. The picturesque yellow flowers brushed across the family's patio jump off the screen and virtually float into your living room. The black-and-white historical footage does contain blemishes, but these appear purposeful to signify the limited technology of the time. This is a near-reference quality transfer, and it combines nicely with the lush photography to create an exciting viewing experience.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: One common element throughout the generations in Sunshine is the simple, emotional piano theme played by members of the family. Within this impressive 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer, these musical sounds spring to life clearly and effectively. The notes move nicely throughout the entire sound field, and they add elegance and grace to this rich film. The dialogue also flows clearly from each speaker, and the volume level adjusts well to the louder, difficult moments. While the surrounds are utilized decently, they could have been used a bit more to increase the depth of the transfer. It still ranks far above the Dolby Surround track, which provides a clear sound without the same amount of elegance and power.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The complexity of Sunshine literally begs for a feature-length commentary track from writer/director Istivan Szabo. Sadly, this disc only contains the film, and it fails to include even the basic promotional documentary, cast information, or theatrical trailer. While shallow films such as Little Nicky and Battlefield Earth receive full-fledged treatments, Paramount slights the DVD enthusiast with this release.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Although its extensive running time will keep some viewers away from Sunshine, this impressive film is definitely worth your time. It covers the turbulent, emotional lives of a Jewish family throughout the century, and features numerous, unforgettable acting performances from a score of talented actors, including Ralph Fiennes, William Hurt, and Jennifer Ehle. Precise and luscious direction by Istivan Szabo combines to provide for a disturbing and intriguing film. More than just a small story about a family, it depicts a historical background of the Jewish struggle in Hungary during the 20th century.


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