on July 20, 2007 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   Istvan Szabo's sprawling three-hour, semi-autobiographical epic, spanning four generations of an assimilated Hungarian-Jewish family, is a hit-and-miss affair, but one with enough substance and intelligence to make for worthwhile viewing. The film's title refers to a health tonic that the great great grandfather of the movie's narrator, Ivan, patented. The tonic is labeled "A Taste of Sunshine," a pun on the family name of Sonnenschein, and its gradual disappearance from the family's life is effectively contrasted with the equal diminution of the family's Judaism. First their name is changed, then their religion is altered, all so they can advance in highly anti-Semitic Hungarian society.

   Szabo, who touched on the subject in his masterful "Colonel Redl," offers an unsentimental, unsparing treatment of Hungarian Jewry who, like their German cousins, were incredibly naive about their imminent fate as Jews under the Nazis. The film's most disturbing scene has the family cheering their exemptions under various aspects of the country's newly instituted anti-Jewish laws; we know, even if they don't, that their Jewish ancestry means they won't be protected in the end.

   Less gripping are the various romantic, soapy entanglements that roil the family. They're just not that interesting. Neither is Ralph Fiennes, who essays three parts in "Sunshine." An uneven actor, Fiennes fails utterly to display the gradations of the characters he plays in successive generations. Szabo means for similarities between the three men to be manifest, but Fiennes offers up the same sullen, repressed guy in each incarnation. Fortunately, most of the other performances, notably those of Jennifer Ehle as a forbidden lover and William Hurt as a Jewish communist who runs afoul of the Party, do stand out. Finally, so does the film.    Starring Ralph Fiennes, Jennifer Ehle and Rachel Weisz. Directed by Istvan Szabo. Written by Istvan Szabo and Israel Horovitz. Produced by Robert Lantos and Andras Hamori. Drama. A Paramount Classics release. Rated R for strong sexuality, and for violence, language and nudity. Running time: 180 min.

Tags: tarring Ralph Fiennes, Jennifer Ehle, Rachel Weisz, Directed by Istvan Szabo. Written by Istvan Szabo, Israel Horovitz, Produced by Robert Lantos, Andras Hamori, Paramount, Drama

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