by Brad Nelson
Warning: There is a better than one-in-two chance that you will want to kill yourself after (or even during) reading this review.
Gloomy Sunday is centered around a restaurant, its owner, and a couple of his friends in 1930’s Budapest. An ill wind is blowing, and it’s not from the over-stuffed meat rolls.
Life and love drift freely, and sometimes painfully, across and through three people, one of whom is a free-spirited drop-dead gorgeous Hungarian (who you do get to see naked, just for the record), played by the drop-dead gorgeous Erika Marozsán (Ilona). The other two characters are a rather secular Jewish restaurateur (László), and a young piano player/composer (András) who has a penchant for writing beautiful, but gloomy, compositions.
Early in the movie, András debuts a killer song that he plays in the restaurant (László runs one of those classy joints that has live music) that eventually goes to the top of the charts. And it really is a killer song. People are listening to this lovely, but pathos-filled, song and offing themselves at an alarming rate (something even Debby Boone couldn’t do with “You Light Up My Life”).
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Nazis eventually move in and it’s definitely not party time if you’re a Jewish restaurateur. Fortunately, László had earlier befriended a German businessman before the war (Herr Wieck, played by Rolf Becker) who is of some assistance now that he is an SS Colonel overseeing The Final Solution in that region (and part of that solution is lusting after Ilona…but who isn’t?).
But that plot description doesn’t begin to touch the artistry of this movie or its interweaving of tragic and gentle themes. Surely this movie is about, in part, the interplay between the beauty of human existence and the tragedy of it as well. Sometimes life hands you a meat roll (or Ilona) or it hands you a bunch of SS Nazis out to enforce a Final Solution.
The Jewish restaurant owner himself has no ideology other than keeping his restaurant open and making a buck. And he’s a splendid chap, friendly, optimistic, and charming. His girl (well, it’s kinda-sorta his girl…that’s a negotiable premise from moment to moment) is happy to just work and to love.
And the piano player/composer is happy just to write and play gloomy music. His greatest concern is over the angst caused by the blood-money he receives via royalties for a song that is killing so many people. (I’m sure this is some kind of foreshadowing of the Final Solution, or it could be an homage to that Monty Python sketch about the world’s most lethal joke.)
All in all, you probably don’t have much of an idea what this movie is about from the above description. But let it be said that it is well-acted, well-directed, and well-photographed. It’s quality through and through. And you get Nazis. What’s not to like?
I give it 3 viles of heart medicine out of 5. This is one of the better multi-culti arthouse foreign films that I’ve seen of late. It has a small-town appeal and a low ADHD factor, although it still has plenty of warm interest. Think Chocolat but with Nazis. Anything I’ve missed about the picture I’m sure Ed will be glad to fill in. • (3120 views)