Sunshine | Chicago Reader

Sunshine

A first-person voice-over suggests that this epic, about three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family whose lives span the 20th century, might be director Istvan Szabo's family saga, though the publicity says it's a mixture of his personal memories and his knowledge of European history. Ralph Fiennes, who delivers the voice-over, plays the narrator's grandfather (a judge and monarchist), then his father (who converts to Catholicism and competes in the Olympics), and then the narrator (who becomes a communist police official)—all of whom are uncannily significant in shaping history. Many of the plot points seem belabored: they're introduced in the voice-over, then ploddingly dramatized, then analyzed by the family over meals. And black-and-white footage that places the actors in newsreel scenarios is largely superfluous. But the audacious depictions of some characters rationalizing their assimilation and passivity before, during, and after World War II—a motif is the changing of the family name, Sonnenschein—may outweigh the stodgy filmmaking and bloated production values. Jennifer Ehle and her mother, Rosemary Harris, take turns in the role of the grandmother. Written by Szabo and Israel Horovitz. 180 min.

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