Gloomy Sunday (1999-2006)

by | Nov 20, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Gloomy Sunday (1999-2006)

Starring: Joachim Krol, Stefano Dionisis, Ben Becker, Erika Marozsan
Studio: Studio Hamburg/Warner Bros. 81426
Video: 16:9 anamorphic enhanced
Audio: DD 5.1, 2.0, German
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Length: 114 minutes
Rating: *****

Don’t know how I missed this one in the theaters; it ran for 70 weeks in Boston.  Winner of many German film awards, this is a sad but magnificently-done drama of the Holocaust period which to my mind easily stands as the equal of The Pianist or Schindler’s List. The setting is Budapest in the mid 1930s, and a restaurant where both the Jewish owner Laszlo and his pianist Andras are in love with the same beautiful waitress there, Ilona. Since she loves them both, they agree to share her.

One of the pieces the pianist happens to play gets Andras’ attention and he learns it is called Gloomy Sunday and Laszlo composed it.  He becomes Laszlo’s agent and the tune is recorded and becomes very popular.  The problem is tied in with another aspect of Hungarians in addition to their facility with languages: their predilection to suicide – more per capita than any other country.  Just hearing the instrumental on the radio or a record caused people to do themselves in.

The story of the tune being composed in a Budapest restaurant in 1933 and becoming popular thruout the world is true. So is the death toll over the years supposedly associated with the tune – over 100 people – and not just in Hungary. It was even banned in the UK. Whether the eventual addition of lyrics to the tune – as with Billie Holiday’s recorded version – made the effect greater or lesser is unknown.

One of the regular patrons of the restaurant is a German man who is also smitten with Ilona.  Seeing his blonde Teutonic appearance and bragging about Germany inventing the Leica camera and being the leader in technology telegraphs that the German visitor will be returning as the years move towards 1939, and he will be a lot less welcome then.  The strength and power of love fuels the actions of the four main characters as their situations change radically in the terrible times of turmoil and pain. The film opens and closes with a scene in the same restaurant, probably in the 70s or 80s. The final scene has a couple of unexpected twists which tie the whole story together. 

Superb writing, acting, cinematography and music.  The scenes of Budapest are lovely and the detail and resolution of this DVD were superior [Oppo 970 player and Samsung S5687W display] to most of the HDTV telecasts I have seen – most especially better than the crudely data-reduced HD PBS telecast of Prime Suspect which I viewed the same day.

– John Sunier

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