Review: Gloomy Sunday

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Gloomy Sunday (Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod) undoubtedly deserves to be added to the ranks of the best Holocaust films ever made. Based on the historical novel Das Lied vom Traurigen Sonntag by Nick Barkow, the movie is an intimate romantic drama set in Budapest against the backdrop of the impending Nazi invasion in 1940.

The tale opens and closes in present day Hungary, though the bulk of the film is a series of flashbacks to events which took 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, however, has little time to date customers because she is already involved in a steamy love triangle with her middle-aged boss, Lazlo (Joachim Krol) and the cafe's talented piano player, Andras (Stefano Dionisi) who, in honor of her birthday, composes a melancholy ballad entitled Gloomy Sunday. The haunting song captures the ominous apprehension in the air, is recorded, becomes a hit and is even blamed for scores of ensuing suicides.

Because Lazlo is a Jew, the plot thickens when the 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. A moving, magical melodrama.

Excellent (4 stars). Unrated. In German with subtitles. Running time: 114 minutes. Studio: Warner Home Video.

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