At 3 hours and 1 minute long, "Sunshine" starring Ralph Fiennes was sort of hard to put into the DVD player. The last 3-hour-long flick I watched was probably Titanic, and that was more years ago than I care to count. I had to set aside plenty of time to watch the flick, because those who know me know I'm the type of person who refuses to stand down when a movie is started. I've never walked out of a theater and have only shut one movie off mid-flick (it was "Mafia"). I'm a get-through-the-movie kind of person. It's just how I am. But this movie, this movie turned out brilliant. Three hours felt like moments.
The film is based on three generations of a Hungarian family, and all of the patriarchs are played by Fiennes. We travel from the 1800s into World War II and into the 1950s. The story begins with the elder (not played by Fiennes) of the family leaving his shtetl-type village to take the family liquor recipe to the city. He becomes incredibly wealthy with his 'Sunshine' booze and sets the family on a well-seated path. Then, as imdb.com says, the elder's son "becomes a prominent judge but is torn when his government sanctions anti-Jewish persecutions. His son converts to Christianity to advance his career as a champion fencer and Olympic hero, but is caught up in the Holocaust. Finally, the grandson, after surviving war, revolution, loss and betrayal, realizes that his ultimate allegiance must be to himself and his heritage."
The fascinating thing about the movie is the ebb and flow of this family. The loss and the struggle of identity. The original family name is Sonnenschein (which means sunshine), but in order to further his career, the lawyer son changes his name to Sors, a Hungarian last name. Thus he and his son go through much of their lives without others acknowledging their Jewish heritage. It is only when the fencer wants to join a fencing club that he must acknowledge his heritage and convert to Christianity. But even still, the Nazis play no favors to Jewish converts and his son is persecuted even still.
The use of Fiennes as each patriarchal figure is a fascinating trick, because it shows a continuity of struggle within the family identity. And let it be known, that this film isn't full of Orthodoxy or anything of the sort, but still the Jewishness is ever present. It traverses familial struggles between the old and new, tradition versus change. And the end of the film brings us full circle, but I won't give that away. I think it's better that the viewer take it on.
Another flick I recommend, darn't!