Customer Reviews: Gloomy Sunday (1999) (Import All Region)
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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Gloomy Sunday (Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod) is a hauntingly beautiful gem of a movie, a unique blending of romance, drama, and tragedy all compressed under the oppressive weight of history. This film lives and breathes, transporting you back to 1930s Budapest with beautiful cinematography, a fascinatingly brooding musical score, and the most human of characters. Released in 1999, I have no idea why this German-Hungarian film took so long to make its way to American audiences or why it was not rewarded with an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Those of us fortunate enough to have seen it have certainly appreciated it. Just asks the folks in Boston, who kept the film running for a record-breaking 70 weeks in 2004-2005. If you have a heart and soul, this film will touch and haunt them both for a long, long time.

The title refers to a song written by one of the characters, but the historical reference is to a song by Hungarian composer Rezso Seress which became known, especially in America, as the Hungarian Suicide Song. Supposedly, many souls took their own lives after basking in the emotional power of this melody, but there is virtually no corroboration for the stories that have grown up around it. (One should keep in mind that the era of the 1930s was a time of worldwide economic depression, in which the Nazi menace cast its foreboding shadow over Europe and eventually the entire world.) In the film, Gloomy Sunday is basically a love song, written by a pianist named Andras (Stefano Dionisi) for the absolutely captivating Ilona (Erika Marozsan). Ilona is the hostess of an elegant restaurant in which Andras finds employment as an in-house pianist. He falls for the dark-eyed beauty just as Laszlo (Joachim Krol), the restaurant owner did, and the three soon develop a strange but very close relationship. Jealousy sometimes arises, as Ilona shares herself with both me, but both Andras and Laszlo would rather share her than lose her. I should point out here that Ilona in no way comes across as a loose or in any way disrespectable woman. She's an angelic creature, a woman with whom men constantly fall in love, including a shy, awkward German youth named Hans Wieck (Ben Becker), who leaves Budapest broken-hearted but returns several years later as an important Nazi colonel.

Laszlo, Andras, and Ilona grow ever closer over these same years. Andras finds instant fame as the composer of Gloomy Sunday yet still struggles to understand just what his song is trying to say. When he despairs over the staggering numbers of suicidal men and women who left life serenaded by his mysteriously cursed song, Laszlo and Ilona are there to rescue him emotionally. Their mutual bond is eternal and true. All too soon, however, the trio's strangely enchanted world begins to come apart. The restaurant is still prospering and "the song" is still being played every night by popular demand, but the arrival of the Nazis in Hungary casts an increasingly foreboding shadow on the lives of these incredibly captivating characters. Fear takes on a palpable presence in their lives as Jews are rounded up and transported to concentration camps. Only Hans affords them, especially Laszlo (for he is Jewish), any kind of safety net in this oppressive and increasingly dangerous environment.

The dogs of greed, betrayal, and pure evil inevitably come to have their day, making for an emotionally jarring final half hour of this film. The subtlety with which the most painful blows strike only makes the tragedy all the more intense - and instructive. That subtlety carries over to the ultimate conclusion, which could not have been presently more effectively.

I could go on and on about the unsurpassed strengths and natural beauty of this film, but words can never communicate my true passion for this film. Gloomy Sunday approaches cinematic perfection, in my humble opinion, and I would urge any and every person to experience its emotional power for himself/herself.
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on October 30, 2006
This is a lovely film in the tradition of grand tragic romances. It is based on a largely fictionalised account of the legend surrounding a well-known love-song from the 1930s, "Gloomy Sunday". The song acquired its notorious nickname of "The Hungarian Suicide Song" because of the rumour (largely false) that it caused a wave of suicides of depressed lovers who listened to it. The original song was written by Hungarian composer Rezso Seress who earned a fortune as a result of its worldwide popularity. The film version of the story has little resemblance with reality.

The film is a German/Hungarian co-production based on the novel by Nick Barkow - "Das Lied vom Traurigen Sonntag". It begins in the present day but reaches back to a more idyllic time in 1930s Budapest. Illona (Erika Marozsán) is a dewy-eyed Hungarian beauty who is loved by 3 men, Laszlo (Joachim Król), a Jewish Restauranteur, András (Stefano Dionisi), a penniless pianist, and Hans (Ben Becker), an up-and-coming German businessman. Andras writes the song "Gloomy Sunday" as a birthday gift and an expression of love for Illona. Illona loves both the pianist and the restauranteur and despite their rivalry, they become friends at her insistence. With Laszlo's help, Andras' song is published, recorded and lauded worldwide. Hans, a frequent customer at the restaurant is the first to propose to Illona. When she turns him down, he almost becomes the first casualty of the song's curse. In despair, he jumps off the Széchenyi Bridge into the Danube. He is rescued by Laszlo who consoles him and nurses him back to health. Hans pledges his eternal gratitude to Laszlo. With Hans' return to Germany, the remaining trio maintain a pretty congenial ménage à trois, which lasts until the arrival of WWII. With war comes the return of Hans, now a Colonel in the SS charged with cleaning out the Jews from Budapest. By this time, the song's morbid reputation has made it infamous around the world. Now the curse returns to haunt those closest to it. Will Laszlo escape the Jewish pogrom? Will Hans be another Oskar Schindler? Will Andras live to win the girl? What will become of Illona? Despite its dark subject matter, the ending is uplifting with its deft twist and its theme of justice served through the years. I happen to like romantic movies and this kind of weepie story appeals to me. I also happen to love the music, which as Illona describes, has the perfect blend of sweetness and sorrow. A more cynical viewer may label all this as hokey and to someone who doesn't respond to the music (most younger people), this fascination may be quite unfathomable, but to each his own.

This Region 1 DVD from Warner is very beautifully presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (enhanced for widescreen TV). The print is quite immaculate with sharp images, vibrant, natural colours and perfect blacks levels. The original German Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also very good. I found the German dialogue perfectly clear once the overall volume level is brought up a bit. The piano and orchestral recording sound splendid. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided. There are no extras whatsoever but this DVD is definitely worth the asking price.

Note: This DVD is unrated but would probably receive an R-rating for nudity, sexuality, violence and language.
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on October 22, 2008
Gloomy Sunday - Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod directed by Rolf Schübel in 1999 is a romantic, absorbing, beautiful, and heartbreaking movie. It started like Jules and Jim; it ended as one of Agatha Christie's books, and in between it said something about love, friendship, devotion, jealousy, war, Holocaust, dignity, and betrayal, and it did better than The Black Book which is much more popular. It is not perfect, and it made me, a cynic, wonder in the end on the complexity of the relationships and sensational revelations, and who is who to whom but the movie simply overwhelmed me. Perfect or not, it is unforgettable. All four actors as the parts of the tragic not even a triangle but a rectangle were terrific. I do believe that three men could fell deeply for one girl as beautiful and dignified as Ilona in a star-making performance by young Hungarian actress Erica Marozsán and who would not? The titular song is haunting, sad, and beautiful, and no doubt deserves the movie been made about it and its effect on the countless listeners. I love the movie and I am surprised that it is so little known in this country. It is a gem.

The fact that it is based on a story of the song that had played such important role in the lives of all characters made me do some research, and the real story behind the song of Love and Death seems as fascinating as the fictional one. The song was composed in 1930s by Rezsö Seress and was believed to have caused many suicides in Hungary and all over Europe as the world was moving toward the most devastating War of the last century. Rezsö Seress, a Jewish-Hungarian pianist and composer, was thrown to the Concentration Camp but survived, unlike his mother. In January, 1968, Seress committed suicide in Budapest by jumping out of a window. According to his obituary in the New York Times, "Mr. Seres complained that the success of "Gloomy Sunday" actually increased his unhappiness, because he knew he would never be able to write a second hit."

Many singers from all over the world have recorded their versions of the songs in different languages. Over 70 performers have covered the song since 1935, and some famous names include Billie Holiday, Paul Robeson, Pyotr Leschenko (in Russian, under title "Mratschnoje Woskresenje"), Bjork, Sarah McLachlan, and many more. The one that really got to me and made me shiver is by Diamanda Galás, the Greek born American singer/pianist/performer with the voice of such tragic power that I still can't get over her singing. Galás has been described as "capable of the most unnerving vocal terror", and in her work she mostly concentrates on the topics of "suffering, despair, condemnation, injustice and loss of dignity." When she sings the Song of Love and Death, her voice that could've belonged to the most tragic heroines of Ancient Greece leaves no hope and brings the horror and grief of love lost forever to the unbearable and incomparable heights.

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on October 22, 2006
It is a rare pleasure to watch a movie that portrays characters who have such depth and which so successfully delves into very complex relationships. The subject matter is grim, but the humanity of this film makes it uplifting. I have watched at least 500 movies in the last couple of years and this is one of the two best!
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on March 29, 2014
I've been fascinated by the song "Gloomy Sunday" since the days of my youth in the 1950's. and as an avid amateur musician have always been fascinated by both the tune and wondering how such a tune is technically musically constructed - alas, I've always been something of a musical fauve so have the musical sense to make good music on a number of instruments, but perhaps for that reason have always been too much of a slug to learn much about the technical/mathematical aspects of music, or perhaps having heard a lot of these musically knowledgeable people play (including a Julliard trained female trombonist) and heard little music in their playing I wanted to escape that fate. In any event, from my ignorant vantage point I opine "minor key" to start, a beautiful result. Since there are an infinite number of possible combinations of musical notes, etc. I guess one just has to be enough of a genius, or lucky enough, to pick one like this unique tune of sadness and happiness.

So, while I recognize that the movie takes liberties with the facts it's still a great yarn, with memorable characters (one of whom is a more than beautiful woman) at a memorable time with some memorable twists, which I won't advert to so as not to spoil it, including one some criticize, which I think is absurd. Suffice it to say that one strong message I get from the film is also a strong one in many of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales ( which I've been re-reading lately in the excellent Frank Ernest Hill modern English translation which I recommend highly) that if one wants to have a good and happy life let the good woman in your life largely run it and be the winner - wisdom from the 1390's which resonated strongly and positively in this great film.
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on April 19, 2008
I bought this DVD because I enjoyed it so much after viewing it once on my Netflix subscription. It depicts an era that I lived through as a child: pre and post WWII. Although taking place in Budapest with Hungarians and their experiences during this period, it is spoken in German by the actors and as I learned that language from my parents as a child born in the United States, I welcome the chance to have my language skills reinforced while being entertained. The music around which the film is constructed is also very haunting or perhaps I'm still too impressionable; I've always enjoyed Gypsy music with its love of life and sadness at the same time. The acting is good and the nudity is also tasteful and not out of context. It's presented as the Europeans see it and it may be a bit too much for American tastes but I must add that it's not coarse, but rather very natural. Perhaps you'd better pre-screen it before the kids see it with you (depending on their ages, your older ones have probably seen worse already). Lovers of roulade de boeuf will love this film.
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VINE VOICEon August 17, 2009
This story of a love triangle set in Budapest before and during the Nazi invasion creates a strong sense of melancholy, even in its happy scenes. The sad, throbbing music haunted me for days after.
It's based rather loosely on a kernel of historic truth. In 1933, two Hungarians wrote a song called "Gloomy Sunday" in which the singer mourns the untimely death of a lover and contemplates suicide. It was recorded by Billie Holliday in 1941 and became a worldwide hit. It was dubbed the "Hungarian Suicide Song" and rumored to have inspired hundreds of people to end their lives. (For more information on this, go to [...]).
After a brief prelude set in the present day, the movie goes back to the 1930s and we meet restaurant owenr Laszlo Szabo and his lover, the dark-haired beauty Ilona played by Erika Marozsan. I'd never heard of this actress before but she is a stunning screen presence. Not only is she amazingly lovely (and the director takes care to dress her in different colors that accentuate her beauty and also to undress her) but she gives a compelling and moving performance.
Laszlo hires a moody pianist Andras to the restaurant. He too is instantly smitten with Ilona (who woudln't be?) and composes the song, "Gloomy Sunday" for her. Ilona is also attracted to him but she still loves Laszlo. After some painful negotiations, in which both men declare that half of Ilona is better than nothing, they settle down as a more or less stable menage-a-trois.
Enter Hans, a young German addicted to the restaurant's signature dish, a roulade of beef, ham and cheese. Predictably, he also falls for Ilona. When she gently rejects his naive offer of marriage, he jumps into the Danube but is rescued by Laszlo.
This turns out to be a bad move because three years later, Hans returns as an SS Colonel, determined to build his fortune by looting the possessions of the city's Jews, who include Laszlo. Hans is quite comfortable with the idea of sending thousands of Jews to Auschwitz but promises to protect Laszlo to repay the debt he owes him.
I won't go further into the plot or spoil the surprise ending.
In general, as the son of a Holocaust survivors whose grandparents and many other relatives perished in extermination camps, I find these kind of movies emotionally difficult. This story also has its heartbreak. It tries to redress the balance at the end by seeking a sort of justice -- but in my opinion fails to do so. I think we are supposed to feel some sort of satisfaction at the ending but it didn't work for me.
There are other aspects of this movie that are heavy-handed. It has a certain self-importance that is not entirely justified.
Still, I recommend it, most of all for the beautiful soundtrack and for the incandescent screen presence of Erika Marozsan.
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on December 28, 2012
A great movie experience. I'm 82 and have been watching movies since I was five years old. This is an unforgettable film. Every facet is superb. The acting is flawless, the cinematography is breathtaking, and the gripping story has every human emotion imaginable. It's hypnotic from start to finish, but keep in mind, you have to be attentive. There are some subtle touches that can go unnoticed if you're not carefully observing and listening, and missing them can possibly deprive you of fully understanding and enjoying the fantastic ending. The skilled director doesn't use a heavy hand, and that's admirable. Every single actor gives a perfect performance. Having studied acting for five years, I must mention that they don't act, they behave. Erika Marozsán's portrayal is colossal! I've fallen in love with her. Even if I were five years old now, there's a scene with Joachim Król I'd remember the rest of my life. I've viewed that particular scene about eight times. Gut-wrenching, yet inspirational. Never in my life have a watched any movie four times, and I just saw this one again for the fourth time... in one week! If not for and Netflix, I would never have heard of it. And it received no nominations for the Academy Awards. Ridiculous! This is truly a masterpiece! I've never written a review for Amazon, but for this film I had to do it. I cannot praise this movie enough!
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on October 27, 2011
Don't know why I had never heard of this movie before it is a rare gem. I usually don't like to watch movies where I have to read the subtitles. This is an exception, you are drawn into it in the first few minutes and before you know it you forget you are even reading it.

Set in Belgium during WWII a Jewish man, an Aryan (NAZI), and a Christian musician all in love with the same woman. She is in love with two of them for sure and one I think a bit but doesn't want to be. I will not tell you which one. The Musician writes a piano piece for her birthday and it becomes very famous. The sad thing is people kill themselves after hearing it. It is really a beautiful yet melancholy piece.

One man saves the others life and is promised the favor would be returned. Will it? The end has twists you don't think you know what is going to happen and........well watch this movie and find out.

Warning~there is total nudity in love scenes if this bothers you I'm just letting you know.
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on July 27, 2007
I've never liked a movie enough to be motivated to write a review. The other reviewers have captured the themes, so I won't repeat them. It's a very emotional movie, capturing both the joy and sorrow in the midst of World War II and the Holocaust. There aren't many movies worth watching twice; this is one of the very few I've seen in the past decade.
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