Thursday, April 13, 2006

"Robin's review of Sunshine"

Although rated a 'B' overall, this reviewer gives Sunshine a good wrap (and is very nice to Ms Ehle and Harris).

"Sunshine" is an ambitious film that spans decades, with the concentration on Fiennes's several lives. The political and personal lives of each Sonnenschein lad are influenced by the whims of history as one regime replace another, each with a promise of a better life for its citizens. The promise is never kept, though, and the people are mere duckpins in the political game as conservative regime replaces liberal, then communist replaces fascist, ad infinitum. The political scope of the film is impressive in it span of time and detail. The upheavals that occur through Hungary's history are depicted with accuracy, starting with the decaying opulence of the Austria-Hungarian Empire of Franz Josef.

When World War One is thrust upon the countries of Europe, the political fabric is torn asunder and traditional ways are destroyed forever. Chaos takes control as followers of the left and right vie with each other to take control. Communism takes command of Russia, while the rise of the Nazis grips Germany and, eventually, the rest of the continent. Hungary sways first in one direction, then the other, as the left and right struggle to take over the government. This strife is shown in parallel as each of the Sonnenschein boys makes his mark on their individual generations, trying to garner favor from the powers that be.

While Ralph Fiennes is the nominal star of the film, it is really an ensemble effort with some outstanding performances. Fiennes puts a unique spin on each of his characters and does an impressive job of making each one different. It's a big creative challenge that the actor handles well enough, but there is a flatness that permeates all three perfs. More impressive is the pair of performances by the actresses who portray Valerie as, first, a young lady, and later, an old woman. Jennifer Ehle is cast as Valerie the younger who becomes the lover and wife of Ignatz. Ehle outshines Fiennes (and everyone else) in every scene she is in, coming across as smart, independent, confident and capable. Rosemary Harris, Ehle's real-life mother, plays Valerie in her twilight years and carries forth the strengths developed by the younger Val. These two ladies are the best things in "Sunshine."

The rest of the large cast provides the requisite depth to their respective roles, but are all so briefly presented that there isn't much time to develop each character. Of the others, William Hurt stands out as the honest and trusting Andor. He believes that his country is finally ready to care for its people, only to have his ideals smashed by the brutal oligarchy of the communists. His downfall also reps a significant turning point for Ivan.

There is depth in the screenplay by Szabo and Hungarian playwright Israel Horowitz and they have no trouble in filling the film's 180 minute run time with its three interlocking tales. But, 3 hours is a big investment of time for a moviegoer and Fiennes does not give a compelling enough performance to warrant the time for most. It's not the type of film I can "recommend" but I don't regret seeing it, either. It's an enigma.

Tech credits are first rate with Lajos Koltai providing the lush photography that helps carry the sought after period feel. Costume, by Pedro Moreno, and set design, by Attila Kovacs, recreate, nicely, the flow of Hungarian history over the last century. The score, by Maurice Jarre, suits the mood of the film.

I give "Sunshine" a B.

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