Sunshine (1999)

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Released 6-Feb-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 173:13
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (95:43) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Istvan Szabo
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Ralph Fiennes
Jennifer Ehle
Rachel Weisz
William Hurt
Deborah Kara Unger
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Maurice Jarre


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Istvan Szabo may be relatively unknown in this country but his body of work is fast making him one of the most sought after directors in Europe. As a Hungarian director with a certain flair, his movies, especially about his home country and steeped with historical and socio-political detail, offer an element we seldom see, assaulted as we are by the plethora of CGI monsters that come out of Hollywood. It is rare to see a high quality movie such as this made on a modest budget (by Hollywood's standards) and even rarer to be given an opportunity to watch a master movie maker ply his trade

    Sunshine's running time of almost three hours would make it almost an epic in earlier days, but there is a real sense of pace that allows the director to present a detailed study of the subject matter and also allow the cast time enough to flesh out their characters to the fullest. The inclusion of actors of the ilk of John Neville, Rachael Weisz, Jennifer Elhe and Rosemary Harris, to name but a few, adds a familiarity along with consummate performances. This is especially true of Ralph Fiennes whose three parts are so pivotal to the whole storyline. All in all this was a wonderfully paced movie that was a joy to watch and I only hope we see many more of these movies making their way onto DVD, especially from Europe.

    Sunshine spans three generations of the Sonnenschein family, from the turn of the 19th century through to the fall of Communism in the late 20th century. Through the eyes of three men we follow the family and its fortunes during those traumatic periods of history, from the Imperial reign at the turn of the century, through WW1 and WW2, including the persecution of the Jews, all the way to the end of Communism during the last decade of the century.

    The story begins with Ignatz Sonnenschein (Fiennes), the elder son of Emmanuel (David de Keyser), a man who has built up his family business making an elixir called A Taste of Sunshine (Sonnenschein means sunshine in Hungarian). A moderately successful enterprise, it allows Emmanuel to educate his children well and rise slowly in the social standings of the day. After Ignatz becomes a successful lawyer, then a judge, he is told that advancement for a Jew is difficult and changing his name would mean elevation to high office in the judiciary. After some consultation with his family, they change their name to Sors (truth) and gain much due to the more liberal attitudes of the Imperial regime. During this time Ignatz marries his cousin, Valerie (Jennifer Ehle) and his brother Gustav (James Frain) actively begins to oppose the imperial rule by becoming a communist.

    After the end of WW1, the communists take over and Gustav gains a brief moment of power before the communists are replaced by a more moderate government. During this time, Ignatz becomes sick and his health slowly deteriorates and he dies not long after. Next the story takes up with his son Adam (Fiennes), a young man with a passion for fencing who finds that his advancement is blocked by not being a part of the correct club. Converting to Christianity in order to gain access to the prestigious Military Club, he begins his climb to celebrity status when he wins the Olympic gold medal at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. From this point on, though, his heritage and status as a Jew become increasingly problematic as the Nazis take over Hungary and soon Adam finds himself treated just like all the others, in a concentration camp and a nobody. His death at the hands of his jailers changes his son, Ivan (Fiennes) who witnesses his brutal and senseless death.

    It's after the war and Ivan is now a staunch communist and Andor Knorr (William Hurt) is looking for men who will help him root out those who aided the Nazis and their atrocities and he takes Ivan under his tutelage. Ivan slowly becomes exactly like those whom he detests; driven, ruthless, and obeying orders he knows are wrong but turning a blind eye to them. It is only when his friend Andor is accused of being a traitor that he realises that his own humanity has been stripped from him and he slowly begins to rebel against the very system he once helped.

    It would be impossible to mention all the little subplots that make this such a compelling movie. Szabo's vision of Hungary during these periods in time are like little time capsules. If there is one complaint I can lay at the movie's feet it is the lack of real passion. There is a certain emotional detachment much of the time as if he is laying down what happens without really getting to the nitty gritty, but this is not intended to be like Schindler's List. I suppose the last line of the movie is precisely what this movie ends up being about - it's about breathing freely. A great movie, a great cast - get it and watch it if you love quality transfers and an excellent story.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a quite sumptuous transfer and up there with the best. The cinematography of Lajtos Koltai alone is worth buying the disc for, storyline notwithstanding. With an almost three hour running time there was plenty of time to find faults but the quality is consistent with only very minor glitches to contend with.

    Originally framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release, this is presented at 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    Apart from some minor edge enhancement, this is very sharp and well defined with excellent delineation of fine detail, like hairs on skin, mottling on books and other minor details that are often lost with blurry transfers. The shadow detail is superb with solid depth in almost every scene. There is no noise on offer with plenty of variation in black levels. There was some very light grain in the opening titles and from then on you'll hardly notice it at all.

    The best part of this whole movie is the colour. Deep, rich saturated colours adorn this transfer from the very opening scenes to the final climax. Cool greens for hospital corridors, rich yellows and blues for the outdoors, deep, rich browns and sepias for internal shots and grim greys with swirling white snow for the concentration camps and other dread environments. The palette used was simply massive with every conceivable shade and hue used. The deep saturation of colour was obviously intentional and added immeasurably to the overall quality. Nothing looked out of place. There was no colour bleed noticed, nor chroma noise noted.

    Some slight ringing on the roof line at 42:02 and some pixelization along the gutters in the same scene are the first really noticeable artefacts. The odd bit of aliasing can be seen at 66:40 on the palace steps and that's about it. As far as normal film artefacts go, there are none to speak of. The use of old black and white footage interspersed with additional material is made to match, including simulation of artefacts.

    The subtitles are placed very annoyingly about one third of the way up from the bottom of the screen, often interrupting the visual flow of the movie. In addition they miss out about one word in three, especially in the more intense scenes. Although they faithfully follow the plot, some of the more subtle spoken nuances are missed totally. The font is very readable with white lettering and a slight black border.

    The layer change is placed at 95:43.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is only one soundtrack on this disc, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track at 448 kilobits per second. The vast majority of the sound for this movie is firmly from the front soundstage. Dialogue is king and there is little to speak of in the way of special effects (the opening scene has an explosion which reverberates nicely through all five speakers, but this is the exception and not the rule). Nonetheless, there is a real quality to the audio which shines throughout the movie. Good separation of the fronts and centre make this a lot more enjoyable.

    The clarity of the dialogue is superb, even though many of the actors don't look like native English speakers. The syncing wasn't an issue at any stage.

    The music is Maurice Jarre and is another sterling effort from a man who composed the music to classics such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Longest Day and Dr Zhivago. From the lilting opening music through the military marches and long orchestra pieces this sits tremendously with the visual fabric being created on-screen.

    The surrounds are used fairly judiciously most of the time to envelop the listener but not overpower them. Since the majority of the movie is dialogue driven you find yourself becoming unaware that the rears are even in play, although they are used throughout with support for the music and occasionally to add a layer to the effects in use (133:50 - listen for the cicadas).

    There really isn't a lot for the subwoofer to do in a movie such as this and consequently you'll hardly register the subwoofer as being in use, although there are the odd moments of rumbling, but nothing notable.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    None.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The release of Sunshine in Region 1 appears to have all the same features and extras (ie: none) that the Region 4 has.

Summary

    Sunshine is one of the finest movies I've watched this year and was a real pleasure to review. Istvan Szabo is a name to remember if any of his other movies make it to DVD. A rather long movie at just under three hours but worth the time to watch it, with a brilliant performance from Ralph Fiennes and excellent support from the other cast members.

    A stellar video transfer for this disc with very little in the way of problems.

    An adequate if not totally inspiring audio effort to complement the video.

    The extras are a treat, all none of them!

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Thursday, March 21, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationRotel RB 985 MkII
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Sonnenschein ? - John Bachmayer