A Scenes from “Sunshine” by István Szabó (1999)
In this short scene (only about 48 seconds) we see a house garden full with the blossom of many yellow flowers, making the people who live there (the Sonnenschein family) very excited. Young Valerie (Jennifer Ehle) brings out her camera which is held on a tripod in order to capture this view. The only thing that bothers her with the scenery is a chair which stands lonely at the center of the garden. When no one listen to her plead that the chair should be removed she walks barefoot into the garden in order to do it herself. Almost reaching the chair she steps on a thorn, sits on the chair trying to pull it out with her fingers. Her step brother Gustave (James Frain) takes the opportunity to take the photo of the blooming garden with his sister in it. Two people react to this action – Valerie who shows her somewhat angry surprise that she was captured like this, or maybe because her camera was used and a photo is wasted, and the reaction of her other step brother, Ignatz (Ralph Fiennes), who’s watching the scene from the balcony and is completely taken by the beauty of it.
This scene is about beauty and trying to capture it. Valerie wants a piece of reality framed in a picture, but she can’t take it as it is and tries to change it to her liking. In doing so the moment is lost and replaced by a new one in which she plays a lead role. Whether she likes it or not, we’re not completely sure (later on in the movie and in the history of the Sonnenschein family this photo will rise again and again as a symbol of a beautiful moment which is already lost in time).
Gustave, the brother who was bold and cheeky enough to snap this photo on his sister’s camera, feels that this scene of blossom is not good enough without his sister in it. He captures the moment, making it an accidental piece of art. His sister which he loves and adores is finally captured – but he didn’t captured her heart, just a beautiful image of her body.
As for Ignatz, the older step brother who’s also in love with Valerie, he is in another place – the balcony. He can’t reach and touch what is happening down in the garden. He can only watch it, enjoy it for a moment and be overwhelmed by the beauty of it.
By this scene Szabó (the director) defines his characters and gives us a hint for the events we are about to experience later on in the movie. Capturing and managing beauty is the role of the film director. He’s also obsessed by having the perfect moment constructed to his liking. Like Valerie the director will try to move the chair, and while doing so sometimes something new will happen, a moment of magic, a work of art in the creation. Gustave took the photo by pure impulse, but that’s also a part of making art. There are two great forces at work here – the first force is the obsessive hand of man constructing all the little details, trying to create the perfect moment. The second force is a chaotic unstoppable chain of events that no one can predict or plan. Be fast and bold enough and you can catch the beauty. Wait another moment and it’s gone. I think this is what filmmaking is all about – catching the most beautiful butterfly in the field, pin it into a glass box where he is forever frozen in time and space.