Sunshine (1999 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||István Szabó|
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Box office||$7.6 million|
Sunshine is a 1999 historical drama film directed by István Szabó and written by Israel Horovitz and Szabó. It follows three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family, originally named Sonnenschein (German: "sunshine"), later changed to Sors (Hungarian: "fate"), during the changes in Hungary of the 20th century. The family lives through World War I under the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the period after the 1956 Revolution, while being forced to surrender much of their identity and enduring family conflict. The central male protagonist of all three generations is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes. The film also stars the real-life mother and daughter team of Rosemary Harris and Jennifer Ehle, as well as Rachel Weisz and John Neville.
The film was an international co-production among companies from Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Canada. It won three European Film Awards, including Best Actor for Fiennes, and three Canadian Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture.
The 19th-century patriarch of the Hungarian-Jewish Sonnenschein family is a tavern owner who distills and makes his own popular liquor in Austria-Hungary. The tonic, called Taste of Sunshine, is commercially made by the next generation of the family, who gain great wealth and prestige from the business. The oldest son, Ignatz, a fast-rising judge, falls in love and has an affair with his first cousin, Valerie, against his father's wishes. Ignatz is asked by a chief judge to change his Jewish surname if he wishes to be promoted within the judiciary. Ignatz, his brother, and his cousin Valerie all change their last name to Sors, a more Hungarian-sounding name.
Ignatz and Valerie marry and give birth to a son. Ignatz continues to hide his Jewish identity to improve his professional and social prospects. At the close of World War I, the liberal monarchy collapses, causing Ignatz to lose his judicial position. The new regime asks Ignatz to oversee trials of retribution against the communists, but he declines and is forced to retire. His health deteriorates rapidly and he dies.
Ignatz's younger son, Adam, shows talent at fencing at the Jewish-run Civic Club. In order to compete at the highest levels, though, he must convert to Christianity because Jews are not allowed in the top military fencing club. Adam wins the national fencing championship two years in a row and goes on to win the fencing match of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Nazi Germany, becoming a national hero in Hungary.
New Hungarian laws are passed discriminating against people with any near Jewish ancestors, and the Sors family is initially shielded by the exceptions in the laws. However, Adam is soon expelled from the military fencing club. Hoping to maintain their wealth and fearing that other places will be no better than Hungary, the family decides to remain in the country.
When Germany occupies Hungary, Adam's wife and mother are immediately moved into the Budapest Ghetto. Adam's mother escapes and hides in a friend's attic, but Hannah later dies in a concentration camp. Adam and his son Ivan are sent to a labor camp, and Adam is killed shortly after his arrival.
After the war Ivan gets a job as a policeman rounding up members of the previous Hungarian political regime for prosecution, particularly Jews, who are suspected of inciting conspiracies against the government. He rises quickly in the communist ranks and begins an affair with Carole, the wife of a high-ranking communist official. When the communist regime is challenged in 1956, Ivan leaves the police force and leads a rebellion, but is arrested after the rebellion fails. Upon release from prison, he returns to live with his grandmother, Valerie. After she dies, Ivan changes his name from Sors back to Sonnenschein.
- Ralph Fiennes as Ignatz Sonnenschein / Adam Sors / Ivan Sors
- Rosemary Harris as Valerie Sors
- Rachel Weisz as Greta
- Jennifer Ehle as Valerie Sonnenschein
- Deborah Kara Unger as Maj. Carole Kovács
- Molly Parker as Hannah Wippler
- James Frain as Gustave Sonnenschein
- John Neville as Gustave Sors
- Mark Strong as István Sors
- Miriam Margolyes as Rose Sonnenschein
- Bill Paterson as Minister of Justice
- Trevor Peacock as Comrade Gen. Kope
- William Hurt as Andor Knorr
- Flóra Kádár as Mrs. Hackl
Psychologist Diana Diamond identified themes in the film as "Trauma, familial and historical", and how it has lasting effects on the individual's psychology. The character Ivan's status as narrator reflects this theme, as he witnesses Adam's death in the concentration camp. In exploring the relationship between Ignatz, Valerie and their brother Gustave and alleged adultery, the film portrays "Oedipal rivalries" and incest. The film also addresses the question of identity. While brewer Emmanuel Sonnenschein does not completely reject either his Jewish heritage or Hungarian life, his descendants falter on this compromise, with Ignatz abandoning the name Sonnenschein and becoming fiercely loyal to Emperor Franz Joseph. Author Christian Schmitt adds Sunshine may also strive to add a message of hope to the tragedies of history.
Professor Dragon Zoltan writes the film starts by contrasting the title Sunshine with clouds as a backdrop, to communicate a force standing in the way of the sunshine. He argues the name of the family's brand, Taste of Sunshine, which is also the literal translation of the film's Hungarian title, suggests that the family's happiness stays with those who have tasted it, even after it is finished. The name Sonnenschein is also said in the film to underline the family's Jewish background, while Sors (fate) maintains the first two letters while erasing the Jewish traces. Ivan becomes a Sonnenschein again after reading a letter telling him how to live, representing the lost recipe of the family brand.
Although the story is a work of fiction, the film draws inspiration from historic events. The Sonnenschein family's liquor business was based on the Zwack family's liquor brand Unicum. One of Fiennes's three roles is based at least partly on Hungarian Olympian Attila Petschauer. Another role in the film which is similar to that of a historic person is the character Andor Knorr, played by William Hurt, which closely resembles the latter part of the life of László Rajk. Sonnenschein itself was a name in director István Szabó's family.
Hungarian-born Canadian producer Robert Lantos aspired to help make a film reflecting his family background of Hungarian Jews. Sunshine was his first project after leaving the position of CEO in Alliance Films.
Szabó shared his idea for the story with Lantos, a friend, in a restaurant, and Lantos was interested. Szabó submitted a screenplay of 400 pages in Hungarian, with Lantos persuading him to condense it and translate to English. The budget was $26 million.
Fiennes described Szabó as very specific in how scenes were staged and how performances were given. On some shooting days, Fiennes would play all three of his characters, particularly if a specific location was only available for a limited time.
The film premiered in the Toronto International Film Festival in September 1999. Alliance Atlantis distributed the film in Canada. It opened in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal from December 17 to 19, 1999.
This was followed by a release in Munich and Budapest in mid-January 2000, with a wider release in Germany, Austria and Hungary later that month. In February 2000, it was showcased in the 31st Hungarian Film Week, held in Budapest, where it won the Gene Moskowitz Best Film award. After U.S. screenings in summer 2000, Paramount Classics re-released it in New York City and Los Angeles on 1 December to promote Sunshine for the Academy Awards.
On the opening weekend in the Canadian limited release, the film made $42,700. In its first 19 days, the film grossed $300,000 in Canada, with expectations that if the film made a profit, it would be due to international screenings, TV rights and VHS and DVD.
By 25 November 2000, it had made $1 million in Canadian theatres. The film finished its run after grossing $5,096,267 in North America. It made $2,511,593 in other territories, for a worldwide total of $7,607,860.
Roger Ebert gave Sunshine three stars, calling it "a movie of substance and thrilling historical sweep". In Time, Richard Schickel remarked on the irony of the title in a film that conveyed how history devastates people. National Review's John Simon praised Szabó's direction, Lajos Koltai's cinematography and especially the performances of Ralph Fiennes and the supporting cast. In The New Republic, Stanley Kauffmann compared Szabó favorably to David Lean in a cinematic treatment of history, and despite the long runtime, "Sunshine is so sumptuous, the actors so refresh the very idea of good acting, that we are left grateful".
In The New York Times, A.O. Scott assessed the film as occasionally awkward, but wrote it made the viewer think. Michael Wilmington of The Chicago Tribune gave the film three and a half stars, praising it for its aesthetic photography and defending Fiennes for "deep understanding, burning intensity and rich contrast". Time later placed it in its top 10 films of 2000.
Sunshine received 14 nominations at the 20th Genie Awards, following the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television's decision to revise rules allowing films with only a minority of Canadian involvement in production to compete, with also allowed Felicia's Journey to be nominated for 10.
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