"Sunshine" is a complex, cross-generational saga about the social, romantic and soul-searching struggles of a proud Jewish family in early 20th Century Hungary. It's a three-hour epic that spans several decades, and while that's a long time to sit still for what is essentially dramatized genealogy, the movie's only unequivocal fault is that it is -- believe it or not -- far too short.
A labor of love from director Istvan Szabo ("Mephisto") -- who co-wrote the film with playwright Israel Horovitz and based it, in part, on episodes in his family history -- this is an intense and personal film with beauty and scope to spare. But with nearly a century of territory to cover and more than a dozen primary characters to enfold, even at 180 minutes, it feels rushed -- like the cinematic equivalent of Cliffs Notes for a great novel.
To give the audience something constant to hang on to throughout the picture, Szabo cast Ralph Fiennes to play three generations of men in the Sonnenschein family, a clan whose fortune comes from an heirloom recipe for tasty, healing herbal tonic known as A Taste of Sunshine -- turned into a popular drink in the late 19th Century by the Sonnenschein patriarch.
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