Hungary/Germany/Canada/Austria 1999

Reviewed by Julian Graffy


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

In the mid 19th century, on the death of his father, the Hungarian Jew Emmanuel Sonnenschein leaves his village and moves to Budapest, where he builds up a business selling his family's "Sunshine Tonic", marries and has two sons, Ignatz and Gustave, and also brings up his brother's daughter, Valerie. All three children change their name to the Hungarian name Sors to assist assimilation. Ignatz studies law and marries Valerie despite parental opposition. They have two sons, Istvan and Adam. Gustave, a doctor, gets involved in the socialist opposition, while Ignatz becomes a judge.

The family's life is thrown into turmoil by World War I, the collapse of the monarchy and the short-lived Communist republic, under which Gustave becomes a high-ranking official and Ignatz is arrested. With the coming of the right-wing Horthy regime Gustave flees to France. In 1930, Ignatz dies, leaving Valerie head of the family. Their son Adam, a brilliant fencer, converts to Catholicism to join the elite army fencing team and wins the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Both Adam and Istvan marry and have sons. But their assimilation into Hungarian society cannot save them from the ghetto and the Nazi death camps. Istvan and his family are shot in Budapest. Adam and his son Ivan are taken to a camp where Adam is tortured to death.

After World War II, Ivan returns to the Budapest house where his grandmother has survived and where his great-uncle Gustave has returned to enter politics. Ivan becomes a Communist Party official, but begins to doubt the regime when he is forced to interrogate his Jewish boss Knorr. After Stalin's death he makes an impassioned speech at the funeral of the rehabilitated Knorr, and leads the rebels in the 1956 revolution. The re-imposition of Soviet power brings his imprisonment. After his release, Valerie dies. Ivan changes his name back to Sonnenschein. In a brief contemporary coda Ivan walks through free Budapest.


Sunshine records the trajectory of a Hungarian-Jewish family over four generations as they move from their village to Budapest, into commerce and government service of various kinds and finally into dissidence and a rediscovered sense of personal identity. Each generation, in its different historical circumstances, copes with a recurrent series of moral dilemmas. The unease of the outsider leads to an excessive desire for acceptance, but acceptance entails compromise, and for these Jews a readiness to renounce both their name and their religion. Compromise brings a seductive closeness to power and heady worldly success, but also involves hypocrisy, shame and self-delusion, laced with a constant fear of the loss of what is gained at such cost.

That the road of these lives is always the same is effectively suggested by having Ralph Fiennes play three generations: the son, Ignatz; the grandson, Adam; and the great-grandson, Ivan. It is the life of the second generation in monarchist Budapest that the film examines most amply, and where the connections between family, society and nation are most carefully delineated. With the story of the dull Adam its grasp becomes much less certain, partly because of a decision to cover the inter-war years chiefly through his passion for fencing (alas, one fencing bout is very like another), but also because director István Szabó's illustrative strategies are already becoming apparent. The final part, the post-war study of Ivan, is more securely rooted in politics and history, but by this point the film, like the viewer, is flagging and the post-1956 period is extremely skimped.

Sunshine is a film of epic scope, and it makes its material manageable by finding patterns in history. There are patterns in the life of the country, in its successive thraldom to three powerful neighbours, Austria, Germany and Russia. In each period power corrupts and leads to vengeful violence, and state anti-Semitism is ever present. There are patterns in the lives of men. Each generation of Sonnenscheins has two sons, and in each generation the central character played by Fiennes is drawn out of weakness to 'forbidden' women.

There are also patterns between the lives of individuals and the nation, for both men and country are sucked into a maelstrom of compromise and self-delusion, a connection underlined by the coincidence of key family events with those of history. But history brings change as well as repetition, and a reading of it through such rigorously applied templates is ultimately unsatisfying. The oversimplifications are accentuated by an over-insistent use of symbolic objects. The recipe for the family's Sunshine tonic, the great-grandfather's watch, broken crockery, a photograph of the young Valerie recur with an eventually dismaying regularity. This excessive desire to guide the viewer is also reflected in the film's dialogue, which is strewn with sententious abstractions, and in the interpretive voiceover provided by Ivan.

Szabó has visited these historical sites before: the decline of the Empire in Colonel Redl, World War I in Hanussen, the Nazi period in Mephisto, World War II in Confidence and so on. In this sense, and also in its examination of individual fates in societies in crisis, Sunshine is a summation of the concerns of a long and brilliant career. And yet each of the earlier films, with its narrower focus, could inevitably achieve greater density and persuasiveness, greater urgency. All the key ingredients of the 20th-century Central European recipe - the two world wars, the Berlin Olympics, the concentration camps, the Stalin cult and the purges, the rise and fall of communism - are assembled here. But the resulting dish is slightly stolid. Near the end of our epic journey we learn, "the purpose of life is... life itself", and the sense of anticlimax is palpable.


István Szabó
Robert Lantos
András Hámori
István Szabó
Israel Horovitz
István Szabó
Director of Photography
Lajos Koltai
Michel Arcand
Dominique Fortin
Production Designer
Attila F. Kovács
Music/Music Conductor
Maurice Jarre
©ISL Film Kft/Kinowelt Filmproduction GmbH/Screenventures XXXIX Productions Ltd (an Alliance Atlantis company)/DOR Film Produktiongesellschaft m.b.H.
Production Companies
Alliance Atlantis and Serendipity Point Films in association with Kinowelt present a Robert Lantos production
Made with the financial participation of Film Four
Financially supported by the Bavarian Film and TV Fund (FilmFernsehFonds Bayern) FFF/the Wiener FilmFinanzierungsfonds WFF
Supported by Eurimages
Produced with the participation of The Movie Network TMN/Telefilm Canada
Produced with the participation of ORF/InterCom/TV2 Hungary/Hungarian Motion Picture Fund
Executive Producers
Rainer Kölmel
Jonathan Debin
Danny Krausz
Lajos Óvári
Associate Producers
Julia Rosenberg
Gabriella Prekop
Head of Production
Alliance Atlantis:
Lacia Kornylo
Production Supervisor
Berlin Additional Unit/
Dorothea Schmid
Production Co-ordinators
Ágota Kovács
Edit Nagy
Production Managers
Lajos Óvári
György Sánta
Berlin Additional Unit:
Ralph Brosche
Vienna Additional Unit:
Stephanie Wagner
Unit Manager
Gábor Téni
Location Managers
Imre Sárközi
Tamás Guba
Vienna Additional Unit:
Andreas Kahri
Lori Waters
Germany Supervisor:
Christina Jahn
Canada Co-ordinator:
Deanna Strong
Production Consultant
Eva Banhidi
Assistant Directors
Gábor Gajdos
Mariann Ungi
Kerric MacDonald
Script Supervisors
Gabriella Winkler
Eva Banhidi
Leo Davis
North America:
Deirdre Bowen
Hungary Additional:
Mária Kulcsár
ADR Voices:
Brendan Donnison
Lyps Inc
Script Consultant
Gabriella Prekop
Camera Operator
Balázs Bélafalvy
Steadicam Operators
Tamás P. Nyerges
Berlin Additional Unit:
Jörg Widmer
Special Effects Supervisor
Ferenc Ormos
Mechanical Engineers
János Berki
Gábor Kiszelly
Gyula Krasnyánszky
Gábor Csákovits
Freezing Effects
Daniel Parker
Editing Technical Consultant
Pierre Guérin
Art Director
Zsuzsanna Borvendég
Key Set Decorator
Tommy Vögel
Set Decorators
Christian Eder
Attila Köves
Miklós Molnár
Josef Riehs
Stefan Würzl
Costume Designer
Györgyi Szakács
Wardrobe Master
Zsuzsanna Stenger
Make-up Supervisor
Erzsébet Forgács
Make-up Artist
Judit Endrényi
Hair Supervisor
Erzsébet Rácz
Ildikó Makk
Judit Halász
Main Title Design
Gamma Studios
William Cameron
Robin Len
Blow Up Film (Munich)
Michael Otto
Martin Zwanzger
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchestra Berlin
Holger Groschopp
Mártha Fábian
Solo Soprano
Catherine Bott
Metro Voices
Music Co-ordinator
Doris Lütz
Music Editor
Dina Eaton
Shawn Murphy
Jonathan Allen
Shawn Murphy
"Tavaszi szél vizet áraszt" performed by (1) Balázs Hantos, (2) László Molnár, János Suki, Sándor Ürmös, András Puporka, Pál Járóka; "Kecskebéka felmászott..." performed by László Molnár, János Suki, Sándor Ürmös, András Puporka, Pál Járóka;, "Egy cica, két cica" by Dankó, performed by László Molnár, János Suki, Sándor Ürmös, András Puporka, Pál Járóka; "Suliko", "Dunnyuska" performed by Miklós Tabányi; "Fantasia for Piano, Four Hands in F-Minor" by Franz Schubert, performed by Márton Terts, Zsolt Czetner; "Ezzel a kis dallal", "Minden kislány" by Denas Buday, arranged by István Bergendy, performed by Gábor Skerlecz, Szabolcs Ducsai, Attila Simon, Gábor Kollmann, Pál Járóka, Béla Ferge; "Szép vagy, gyönyörü vagy" by Ottó Vincze, performed by Vám és Pénzügyörség Zenekara; "Lesz, lesz, lesz..." by Szerdahelyi, performed by Vám és Pénzügyörség Zenekara; "Radetzky Marsch" by Strauss, performed by Budapest Concert Orchestra; "National Anthem" by Ferenc Erkel, Kölcsey, performed by Vám és Pénzügyörség Zenekara; "Stalin Cantata" by A.V. Alexandrov, Iljuskin, arranged by Frigyes Hidas, István Raics, performed by Szabó Zsolt Orchestra and Choir, BM Szimfonikus Zenekar, Trikolore Kft; "Worker's Funeral March" by Alexis Archangelsky, performed by Szabó Zsolt Choir; "Jewish Wedding Song" performed by Emil Tóth; "Traditional Jewish Funeral Song" performed by László Fekete; "Egmont Overture - Opus 84" by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchestra Berlin; "Blue Danube", "Kaiser Waltz" by Strauss, arranged by Patrick Russ, performed by Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra; "Wedding March" by Felix Mendelssohn, arranged by Patrick Russ, performed by Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchestra Berlin; "Huzzad, csak huzzad" by Korbay, performed by Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchestra Berlin; "Veni creator spiritu" arranged by Patrick Russ, performed by Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchestra Berlin; "Please God May We Always Go on Singing" by Maurice Jarre, István Szabó, performed by Metro Voices
Sound Mixer
Glen Gauthier
Supervising Re-recording Engineer
Daniel Pellerin
Re-recording Engineers
Peter Kelly
Keith Elliott
Brad Thornton
Elius Caruso
Darcey Kite
Andrew Tay
Brent MacLeod
Mark Zsifkovits
Mike Woroniuk
Digital Transfers
Jeff Chesher
Supervising Dialogue Editor
Fred Brennan
Dialogue Editors
Wayne Swingle
Richard Cadger
Supervising Sound Effects Editor
Jane Tattersall
Sound Effects Editors
David McCallum
Roderick Deogrades
Mark Shnuriwsky
Vanessa Baker
Lyps Inc
Andrew Tay
Greg Shim
Alan Sallabank
Paul Carr
Ted Swanscott
Sue Conley
Alison Clark
Janice Ierulli
Andy Malcolm
Alicia Stevenson
Sharon Zupancic
Andrew Tay
Ron Mellegers
Location Mixer:
Tony Van Den Akker
Fencing Instructor
László Szepesi
Fencing Advisers
George Lavorato
Nikkolas Lavorato
Stunt Co-ordinator
György Kivés
Original Translation
Paul Gottlieb
Ralph Fiennes
Ignatz Sonnenschein/
Adam Sors/Ivan Sors
Rosemary Harris
Valerie Sors
Rachel Weisz
Greta Sors
Jennifer Ehle
Valerie Sonnenschein
Deborah Kara Unger
Major Carole Kovacs
Molly Parker
Hannah Wippler
James Frain
Gustave Sonnenschein
David de Keyser
Emmanuel Sonnenschein
John Neville
Gustave Sors
Miriam Margolyes
Rose Sonnenschein
Rüdiger Vogler
General Jakofalvy
Mark Strong
Istvan Sors
Bill Paterson
minister of justice
Trevor Peacock
Comrade General Kope
Hanns Zischler
Baron Margittay
Mari Töröcsik
Katja Studt
Péter Andorai
Péter Halász
Wild Duck
William Hurt
Andor Knorr
Ádám László
Emmanuel aged 12
Balázs Hantos
Aaron Sonnenschein
Kathleen Gati
Josefa Sonnenschein
Vilmos Kun
Rabbi Bettelheim
Jácint Juhász
Mr Hackl
Flóra Kádár
Mrs Hackl
Kati Sólyom
landlady in Vienna
Joachim Bissmeier
Dr Emil Vitak
Tamás Fodor
Tamás Raj
rabbi at wedding
Dr Zoltán Bognár
doctor 1
Attila Löte
Count Forgach
Sándor Simó
doctor 2
Frederick Treves
István Hirtling
Doctor Lanyi
Zoltán Gera
man at synagogue
András Fekete
Bálint Trunkó
Istvan aged 18
János Nemes
Adam aged 17
Tamás Juranics
commander of Lenin boys
András Stohl
red guard
Tamás Keresztes
Bence Kotány
Zsolt László
Gábor Mádi Szabó
priest at conversion
István Szilágyi
László Gálfi
Zoltán Seress
István Bubik
Eszter Ónodi
secretary at officer's club
Sándor Dánffy
Buddy Elias
Mr Brenner
Károly Mécs
defense secretary
Ádám Rajhona
Péter Takács
Stefano Sarto
László Szepesi
Olympic judge
János Kulka
János Nemes
Ivan aged 16
Lajos Kovács
military police in camp
Gábor Máté
Israel Horovitz
Andrea Fullajtár
Agota Hofer
György Kézdy
outraged man
Tamás Jordán
István Fonyó
warehouse guard
József Fonyó
prison sergeant
Frigyes Hollósi
Mr Ledniczky
Ila Schütz
Mrs Ledniczky
János Vészi
doctor 3
Ica Gurnik
woman in hospital
éva Igó
Alliance Releasing (UK)
16,198 feet
179 minutes 59 seconds
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011