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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

photo caption:
PARTNERS IN A TRIANGLE OF LOVE: Ilona (Erika Marozsan, right), Andras, (Stefano Dionisi, center), and Laszlo (Joachim Krol) are looking out over the bridge in Budapest just before the Nazis invade Hungary in World War II.
end caption.


Specter of Nazi Occupation Haunts Budapest Restaurant in "Gloomy Sunday" (Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod)

Review by Kam Williams

Gloomy Sunday (Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod) undoubtedly deserves to be added to the ranks of the best Holocaust films ever made, which is no mean feat, given that the genre is already crowded with such classics as Schindler's List (1993), Shoah (1985), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), The Pianist (2002), Life Is Beautiful (1997), and Fighter (2000). Based on the historical novel Das Lied vom Traurigen Sonntag by Nick Barkow, this movie is an intimate romantic drama set in Budapest as it was about to be invaded by the Nazis in 1940.

The book was adapted and directed by Rolf Schubel who distilled a World War II epic into a morality play. The movie has to be seen more than once to appreciate fully because it is impossible to know which minutiae to pay attention to the first time you see the film. The storyline imperceptibly weaves together several seemingly insignificant subplots towards the denouement, whose significance can only be ascertained with hindsight.

The tale opens and closes in present day Hungary, the main part of the film is a series of flashbacks to events that took place during the war. The bulk of the action takes place at a popular hangout called Szabo's Restaurant where everyone, it seems, is in love with the flirtatious waitress Ilona (Erika Marozsan).

Some patrons like Mr. Torresz (Ernst Kahl), an artist who sketches her in charcoal while sitting at his regular table, merely admire the young beauty from afar. Others, such as Hans Wieck (Ben Becker), a handsome tourist about to return to his native Germany, make impulsive overtures only to be rebuffed.

Ilona has little time to date customers because she is involved in a love triangle with her middle-aged boss, Lazlo (Joachim Krol) and the cafe's talented piano player, Andras (Stefano Dionisi). Her boyfriends are both willing to share her rather than risk losing her altogether.

In honor of Ilona's birthday, Andras composes Gloomy Sunday, a melancholy ballad which soon becomes such a popular request at the establishment, that Lazlo helps him land a recording contract. The haunting song becomes a hit and something of a cultural phenomenon, however, it is blamed for scores of ensuing suicides.

In actuality, the song was composed by two Hungarians and was banned briefly because of the hypnotic effect it was having on many of its listeners. Apparently its morbid lyrics resonated with people concerned about Hitler's atrocities and aggression, and, as a consequence, threw themselves into the Danube.

Despite its depressing refrain, jazz singer Billie Holiday helped turn the song into an international hit. Over the years Gloomy Sunday was recorded by dozens of other crooners, including Elvis Costello, Sarah McLachlan, Marianne Faithful, and Sinead O'Connor, some of whose versions are contained on the soundtrack.

Because Lazlo is a Jew, the plot thickens when the Nazi storm troopers take the city and Hans, the former tourist, returns to town as a Colonel stationed there with enough power to determine who is sent to a concentration camp and who is afforded safe passage to Switzerland. Though under the spell of both Ilona and Hitler, he holds all the trump cards as the frightened citizenry, including each of our protagonists, struggles to survive.

Excellent (4 stars). Unrated. In German with subtitles.


end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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