Film Files: “Sunshine” 1999

Nothing like Netflix. I just joined; I‘ll be catching up on films I missed and will do lots of knitting in the process.

I watched “Sunshine,” a 1999 film about three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family from the beginning of the 20th century through the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.  

British actor Ralph Fiennes plays three characters: the grandfather, Ignatz Sonnenschein; the  father, Adam Sors; and the grandson, Ivan Sors.   Sonnenschein means sunshine in German; Sors means fate in Hungarian.

Thanks to the secret recipe for liquor inherited from Great-Grandfather Emmanuel, the  family enjoys the best of Budapest society: lavish parties,  a stately home, high fashion, and sumptuous food.  Ignatz studies law abroad, returns, and lands a prominent post with the government.

Meanwhile, the location of the battered notebook containing the recipe for the liquor eludes everyone.

His son, Adam becomes an Olympic fencer. To represent the national team, he must appease anti-Semitism. He changes his name to Sors and converts to Catholicism. Neither winning for the country nor conversion protects him from the Nazis; he’s killed in a concentration camp. (This character is apparently based on a real person, Hungarian Olympian Attila Petschauer)

His son, Ivan, witnesses his father’s murder, then returns to the disheveled family home, finding grandmother, who survived the war in hiding, living in one room.

Sent to prison, he returns three years later, distraught that he lost his great-grandfather’s pocket watch. His grandmother consoles him: material things- whether an heirloom watch or a family recipe- is not important. ‘

After her death, he cleans out the house, and reclaims his family name, presumably accepting his lost heritage.

Three hours of romance, betrayal, power, history, and ultimately; family.  The movie stayed with me for hours into days. Each generation struggled with its identity, letting go of past traditions to fight anti-Semitism by assimilating into Hungarian culture. When Ivan retakes his family name, he’s walking down a street, smiling. Does this mean he’s returning to the religion as well?

I thought of my own family history. My father’s parents, Eastern European immigrants, assimilated to the culture they saw as American.  What they brought with them they instilled in my father: a strong work ethic, a belief in justice, a commitment to family and others.  We celebrated American and Jewish holidays.

My sons  are “ba’ali  teshuva”  (Hebrew for returnees to the faith) and study, pray, and observe religious rituals. They married “frum“ women and are raising their children as Orthodox.   

I see myself as secular: or as we say jokingly, “ a la carte”- practicing what I wish, picking and choosing what and how I observe.

Thankfully there’s room in this country for us to do so.  Religious tolerance is a basic tenet of our nation. Let it continue.

(special thanks to Leah in  for suggesting this film.)


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. ( I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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5 Responses to Film Files: “Sunshine” 1999

  1. Karen Gasparini says:

    I’m a practicing Catholic, and one of my hobbies/interests in the last ten years or so is studying the Bible….. I find the Jewish culture/religion very intriguing! I’ll have to check this movie out! I don’t have Netflix, but we just renewed my son’s subscription…lol….I’m sure he’ll share!


  2. Nancy Chiller Janow says:

    Accidentally rented Sunshine quite a while ago (thought it was something else) and it is now one of my favorite movies.


  3. Leah says:

    Thanks for the link back. And I’m so glad you enjoyed the movie. It really made an impact on me too.


  4. animalizard says:

    It’s a beautiful movie. I was actually in Hungary recently and was surprised to see the shul completely packed out with American and locals- there seems to be a collective teshuva happening against all odds, as anti-semitism has not been as rampant since the war as it is in Budapest now.


  5. Thanks for stopping in. I was in Budapest about 7 years ago and felt that the synagogue had become a tourist site only and that no Jews were there. There are returning I guess there and also to Berlin– from Israel because many are finding it too expensive to live in Israel.


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