Lisa Schwarzbaum
June 09, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sunshine

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
runtime
180 minutes
Limited Release Date
06/09/00
performer
Jennifer Ehle, Ralph Fiennes, Rosemary Harris, Rachel Weisz, William Hurt, Molly Parker, Deborah Unger
director
Istvan Szabo
Producers
Serendipity Point Films
distributor
Paramount Classics
author
Istvan Szabo
genre
Epic, Historical, Drama

We gave it a B+

Multigenerational sagas are more comfortably the provenance of TV miniseries than of crammed feature films. But in Sunshine, the distinguished Hungarian filmmaker Istvan Szabo (”Mephisto”) distills complex issues of identity into three hours of dense 20th-century family drama that, while inevitably oversimplified, is never less than engrossing.

Three generations of the Jewish Hungarian Sonnenschein family — the name means sunshine — rise and fall through the rise and fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Nazism, and communism. It is Szabo’s most elegant touch, though, to cast one mournful-faced actor, Ralph Fiennes, as a Sonnenschein son of each era, weighing forfeitures (of family name, of religion) against personal and professional gains.

The classy cast includes James Frain, Rachel Weisz, and William Hurt. And none is classier than recent Tony Award winner Jennifer Ehle as free thinking Valerie Sonnenschein, the story’s bright center. Another fine detail: When Valerie ages, she’s played by the luminous Ehle’s own glowing mother, Rosemary Harris.

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