Volume 93, Issue 69

Wednesday, February 2, 2000


See spot run, see fame grow

Sunshine nurtures budding plots to grow

Guy's guys finally back together

Sunshine nurtures budding plots to grow

Photo by Peter Sobel
KEEP SMILING DEAR, MAYBE NO ONE WILL NOTICE YOU FARTED. Jennifer Elhe and Ralph Fiennes put up a brave front for the public in Sunshine.

By Matt Pearson
Gazette Staff

From the opening moments, it's clear that director Istvan Szabo is going to attempt to tell an epic story. Over three hours later, his grand tale – one which touches on love, family, religion and persecution, comes to a close. What occurs between those two points is pure, cinematic magic.

At its core, Sunshine is a trio of stories threaded together by a visionary director. In it, Ralph Fiennes plays three different characters from three subsequent generations while Rosemary Harris' Valerie remains the film's constant, portraying Fiennes' wife, mother and grandmother in these respective generations.

The story begins in Hungary, where a young boy is forced to leave his village and find work in the alcohol distilleries of 19th century Budapest. After years of hard work, the young man (Fiennes) builds his own distillery and becomes quite wealthy. He marries, raises two sons and adopts the orphaned daughter of his late brother, thus sparking the chronology of events set to unfold.

Each of the three tales is landmarked by a major event in history. It begins with the First World War, is followed by the Second World War and closes with the rise of communism throughout Eastern Europe in the '50s.

Although it takes place in different eras, the film is guided by a dominant theme – being Jewish in an anti-Semitic society. The movie chronicles many attempts to mask one's faith, depicting methods such as name changes and religious conversions.

Cinematically, Sunshine offers plenty of enjoyment. It's a brilliantly shot and edited film which sees Szabo intertwine gorgeous scenes with authentic black and white footage, reinforcing each story's dominant historical backdrop.

Of note is the inclusion of at least half a dozen graphic sexual encounters which, although approaching soft core pornography, fit well within the romantic nature of the film. A movie of this subject matter is almost guaranteed to be graphic. Many scenes from Sunshine accurately depict the violence of war as well as the sheer horrors of a concentration camp with harrowing and often disturbing results.

The religious undertones of the film are also well constructed and explored. Szabo accurately captures the plight of Jewish people as they struggle to maintain their faith while protecting their families from persecution. These scenes are not only well done, but they provide further proof that Szabo sought to capture an entire people throughout an entire historic timeline, as opposed to within a single event.

A film this involved and elaborate could have quickly sunk under the weight of a poor supporting ensemble, thankfully the acting throughout the movie is strong.

Not surprisingly, Fiennes' performance is outstanding. He is clearly one of the best actors on the market and this film offers him room to flex his acting muscle. The ease with which he plays three very different characters is a definitive demonstration of his talent as an actor. Rosemary Harris is also solid as the critical link who connects all three stories.

Despite its length and depth, Sunshine is both a sprawling history lesson and a well-acted cinematic journey, which deserves to be seen.

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