GLOOMY SUNDAY

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                Please don’t miss this movie.  “Gloomy Sunday” is the kind of romantic drama that can spring only from the 1930s.  The early scenes, which are complex and beautifully crafted, unfold in the shadow of World War II with a layer of poignancy covering the innocence.  Director Rolf Schubel unreels his picture rapidly from the opening shot.  Schubel gives us so much, so fast that we are barely able to absorb it, but he does it so cleverly that it sinks into the collective core.  Don’t arrive late.  This particular tale is an unusual blend of fact and fiction that became Schubel’s dream when he first heard the song “Gloomy Sunday” in the ‘70s and then discovered the story behind it.  The song is real; the love story is fictional.    

In Budapest during the late ‘30s, three men love one lovely woman.  Laszlo (Joachim Krol) and his partner, Ilona (Erika Marozsan) adore each other.  Tonight they hire Andras (Stefano Dionisi) to play the grand piano in the popular restaurant they manage together.  When Ilona is attracted to Andras also, Laszlo says, “ I would rather have part of her than none,” and they become a ménage a trois. 

On Ilona’s birthday, Andras, the pianist, composes a song, “a little melody” he calls it, in her honor that transfixes the patrons.  Struck by the tribute and the woman, an awkward young German falls in love instantly and proposes marriage.  So now a German, a restaurant owner, and a composer love Ilona.    She begins to assume mythical status.  “Gloomy Sunday,” as it did in real life, becomes an instant international hit.  Andras is devastated when people begin to commit suicide as they listen to his song – five in Budapest, one hundred around the world.  Is it the music or is it foreboding?

Director Schubel makes particular magic of the first half of the film.  This earlier, elegant time is something we rarely see so well portrayed.  His four featured actors are marvelously different, each from the other, and three of them win our hearts.  As the Holocaust looms, we are snatched quickly from romantic pre-war Budapest to the reality of human behavior in a suddenly horrific world.  The people we have come to like so much are thrown up against the moral choices of a changed world. 

This is a complicated film created with grace and a delicate touch by a director who knows just what he wants.  His opening scene is one of the strongest I have ever seen.  Try taking your eyes off the screen after seeing it.  As for the actors, Erika Marozsan is entirely credible as the sweet creature who haunts three men.  I doubt there will be many more endearing performances this year than this one by Joachim Krol as a charming and honorable man who loves a woman with all his heart.  The movie is both old-fashioned and of the moment, completely absorbing from beginning to end.

 


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