Sunshine (1999 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the 1999 historical drama film. For other films named "Sunshine", see Sunshine (disambiguation) § Film and television.
Sunshine 1999 poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by István Szabó
Produced by
Written by
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Lajos Koltai
Edited by
  • Michel Arcand
  • Dominique Fortin
Distributed by
Release date
  • 17 December 1999 (1999-12-17)
Running time
180 minutes[1]
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Hungary
  • Canada
  • English
  • French
Box office $7.6 million[2]

Sunshine is a 1999 historical drama film written by Israel Horovitz and István Szabó, directed and produced by Szabó. It follows three generations of a Jewish family (originally called Sonnenschein, a name that literally means "sunshine" in German, but later changed to Sors, meaning "fate" or "destiny" in Hungarian) during the changes in Hungary from the beginning of the 20th century to the period after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. 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.

Although fictional, the film weaves events drawn from several real sources into the story. The Sunshine 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, but also includes allusions to the early life of Miksa Fenyő and other famous Hungarians of Jewish origin who suffered from anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews in World War II Hungary.[citation needed] 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.

The film was an international co-production among companies from Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Canada. It won the Genie Award for Best Canadian Film.


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" 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.

The fictional Emmanuel Sonnenschein and Co. liquor company building in Budapest. The film crew left the painting and all other decorations on the building, and they are still visible there (Bokréta utca 15., District IX, Budapest)

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 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. In the final scenes, Ivan changes his name from Sors back to Sonnenschein.


Awards and nominations[edit]

See also[edit]


Tumanov, Vladimir. “Daniel and the Sonnenscheins: Biblical Cycles in István Szabó’s Film Sunshine.” Journal of Religion and Film 2004 (8) 2.

External links[edit]