"Surviving the Holocaust Through Sin"
What You Need To Know:
SOLEIL is an extremely well produced look at a mother who keeps her family alive in the Jewish quarter in Algiers in World War II. Regrettably, morality takes a back seat to coming of age and survival. Meyer Levi is a young boy growing up in the Jewish quarter in Algiers. His mother Titine loves her four children. She is determined that they will survive. She loses her job in the post office and ends up lying and cheating to provide for her family. After being discovered of lying, Meyer gets drunk and visits a prostitute. Thus, he comes of age. He eventually becomes the great surgeon his father wants him to be.
Was it right for Titine to lie, cheat, steal, and perhaps commit adultery in order to survive? This is a difficult question, but, the stealing, the lying, and the implied fornication all give a very depressing, materialistic patina to the film. While LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL presented a man who exhibited virtue under duress, this presents a mother who will do whatever she has to do in order to survive. No matter how well made SOLEIL is, it can’t overcome its moral poverty
(HH, Co, L, V, SS, NN, A, MM) Humanist worldview about a Jewish family surviving the Holocaust in Algiers; 2 obscenities & references to sex as well as Italian obscene physical gestures; minor fist fight among young boys; explicit scene of a young boy with a prostitute, brief but graphic fornication; upper female & male nudity; alcohol use; and, stealing, lying & cheating to survive Holocaust as well as pro-communism.
Every year hundreds of movies are released worldwide which never reach the US. Many that do are never submitted to MPAA for ratings. Furthermore, of the hundreds of films rated by the MPAA every year, only about 25% to 30% reach the theaters. Most of those that don’t aren’t worth the film stock upon which they are made, but, once in a while, there is a gem. The LOS ANGELES TIMES touted Sophia Loren’s SOLEIL, or SUNSHINE, as one of those gems.
SOLEIL is extremely well produced. Looking old and poor, Sophia Loren gives a powerful performance. Also, this very realistic coming of age story set in the Jewish quarter in Algiers in World War II pull at the heartstrings of the audience. Regrettably, however, it is not a gem because morality takes a backseat to coming of age and survival.
Originally released in Italy in 1997, the movie starts with a magnificent ball for Meyer Levy (Richard Olczyk), in an ornate French ballroom. In the midst of the festivities, Meyer has a heart attack.
Dying, he sees himself as a young boy growing up in the Jewish quarter in Algiers. In a voice over, Meyer reflects that young children make the common mistake of thinking that their mothers will live forever. The story is just as much about Meyer Levy at the age of 12 (Nicolas Olczyk) as it is about his mother, Titine (played by Sophia Loren).
A woman of great dignity, Titine loves her four children, and she is determined that they will survive the war. Because she is Jewish, she loses her job in the post office and tries desperately to find other work to feed her family. She tries being a seamstress, but gets fired when she is discovered stealing some of the cloth to make a coat for her youngest son, Meyer. She gets her groceries by spending a little time in the back of the shop with the store owner. When a wealthy cousin, Mrs. Schwarzkopff (Attica Guedj), gives her valuables such as Moroccan rugs and fabrics to hide, Titine sells them off to buy food for her children. After the war ends, Titine denies to Mrs. Schwarzkopff that she ever received the rugs.
Meyer’s father works in France as a postmaster under an assumed name. He is a communist. Meyer likes the communists, even writing communist graffiti on the walls. Meyer, too, lies to get a job, but is found out. He gets drunk and eventually visits a prostitute, and vividly experiences fornication for the first time. Thus, he comes of age. He eventually becomes the great surgeon his father wants him to be.
Now, here is the rub. Was it right for Titine to lie, cheat, steal, and perhaps commit adultery in order to survive? This is a difficult question. But, the stealing, the lying, the denials, and the implied fornication all give a very depressing, materialistic patina to the film. While LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL presented a man who was faithful and true and exhibited virtue under duress, this presents a mother who will do whatever she has to do in order to survive. No matter how well made SOLEIL is, it can’t overcome its moral poverty.