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Sunshine (1999)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

      

When I was younger, I had a close friend that was Hungarian-Jewish, so when I learned Sunshine was about a family of Jews beginning with the Victorian era and spanning into more modern times, I was interested enough to rent the movie. What I found was a film that is completely and utterly absorbed in immorality. It has flickers of intelligence and the acting is stellar, but I was completely disgusted by the adultery and lewd sex scenes.

 

A Taste of Sunshine. That's the name of the tonic that Emmanuel Sonnenschein (David de Keyser) has inherited in the little black notebook, the only thing not destroyed in the horrific explosion that took his father's life in the small Hungarian town. It eases most ailments and is highly popular, so much so that it earns Emmanuel both respect and wealth. After the death of his brother and sister in law, Emmanuel adopts their orphaned daughter, bringing her up along with his two sons. None of them have an interest in taking over the family business when they reach adulthood. Ignatz (Ralph Fiennes) is studying to become a circuit judge. Gustav (James Frain) is studying medicine, and their cousin Valarie (Jennifer Ehle) just wants to be Ignatz's wife. They're not legally brother and sister, but Ignatz's parents heartily disapprove of the match.

 

When Valarie becomes pregnant, they have no choice but to accept the marriage. Ignatz has been confronted with his Jewish heritage. The communist government is in need of a new panel of judges, but refuse to give it to anyone who has a Jewish last name. All three of them change their last name to Sors. The story follows his involvement in the uprising, success on the circuit, and the fate of his son, Adam (Ralph Fiennes), who becomes Hungary's Olympic medalist for in fencing underneath the oppression of the Third Reigh. Pressured by her flattered attentions, he pursues the wife of his brother (Rachael Weiz). When the Jews are ostracized and persecution begins, Adam's grandmother and mother are sent to concentration camps. Many years later, Adam's only son Ivan (Ralph Fiennes) starts in motion a bloody backlash against escaped Nazis.

 

Sunshine is a very long film with no redeeming value that follows a series of adulterous and arguably incestuous affairs in a family that is no more Jewish than I am. Most of them are cultural Jews. They cling to the old customs but don't pray or hold in esteem anything of their heritage. Adam becomes a Roman Catholic because he cannot join the Royal Academy as a Jew. Persecution and the chilling backlash of communism permeate the script. It's eerie watching the Olympics proceed beneath a swastika. Ralph Fiennes gives three fine performances, and his leading ladies are all remarkably moving. There's also an excellent cameo role by William Hurt. The film crew did well in transcending time, and the costuming is quite lovely. It does have some nice moments, such as the scenes of Valerie's photography passion, and their wedding, but otherwise it's tripe.

 

I don't want to get descriptive on the content, so I'll just say this: it's vile. There's a lot of clothed sex (including brief oral, and a wife being violently raped by her husband), along with related nudity. All of it is fornication, and some of it is adulterous. We see a woman's bare breasts, and a lot of backside nudity. Adam is forced to strip in front of everyone in a prison camp, dragged around, badly beaten, and finally hung from a tree. There's distant male frontal and side nudity. Violence involves a Jew being beaten to death in a prison camp with rifle butts, a man forcing his wife, and battle violence. Language involves half a dozen f-words, one abuse of Jesus' name, and some mild profanities. I've grown to appreciate Fiennes' acting. He's extremely talented, but seeing too much of him, along with having my impression of "Lizzie Bennet" tarnished, didn't sit well with me. I felt dirty afterward.