This reaview was edited on September 18th, 2006 as a substantially better R1 release of the film is now available. Please see our review of it!
Imagine a song so powerful that it literally forces those who hear it to tear their hearts apart and commit suicide. Now imagine that this very same song became an instant hit only months before one of the most tragic events in modern day history took place-World War II. That is exactly what happened to Gloomy Sunday, the infamous song which Hungarian musician Reszo Seress composed in the beginning of the century. In a matter of days the song became a radio hit that drove hundreds of people on the brink of committing a suicide. But why?
Reszo Seress was a struggling musician in pre-war Budapest attempting to make a living by accepting odd music gigs that barely helped him pay the bills. He would often argue with his fiancée and fiercely disregard her suggestions that he needs to get a "regular job" instead of relying on his talent to make ends meet. Eventually, like many gifted musicians involved in a committed relationship, Reszo faced the century-old dilemma of either following his passion for music or listening to his heart and following the love of his life. He made the more difficult decision-he chose music and consequently composed one of the most heartbreaking melodies ever that would spur a string of suicides from Paris to Moscow to the booming at the time city of New York. Rolf Schubel's film Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod a.k.a Gloomy Sunday retells the true story of Reszo Seress and his song.
In the beautiful city of Budapest Laslo (Joachim Krol) is attempting to start a small restaurant where people can enjoy a nice meal while listening to the soothing tunes of a classical piano. With the assistance of his lovely waitress Ilona (Erika Marozsan), a gorgeous dark-haired beauty, Laslo must choose a deserving for the restaurant pianist. Unfortunately none of the applicants that he has auditioned seem what the restaurant really needs. But when Andras (Stefano Dionisi) walks in only minutes after Laslo has decided to call it a day and asks politely if he could audition for the job it seems like the tiny restaurant might have found a man with the proper music skills. Andras plays a beautiful Hungarian tune which Laslo and Ilona are impressed with and earns the gig.
A few months later when Ilona celebrates her birthday Andras presents an unusual gift-a lovely but sad melody called Gloomy Sunday. The melody is short yet so powerful that those who hear it immediately drift away in a sea of unfortunate memories often recalling the darkest moments of their lives. It is indeed a strange gift which Ilona is unsure how to accept.
In the meantime neither Laslo nor Andras seem capable of resisting the beauty of Ilona. They are both madly in love with her. Unable to cope with the pain of seeing Ilona with another man Andras decides to leave. But Gloomy Sunday has become such an enormous hit in Budapest that more people now come to the restaurant to hear the song than to enjoy the chef's culinary miracles. Realizing that without the splendid piano music the restaurant will never be the same Ilona begs Andras to stay. Deep inside her heart she is also torn between the two men she now loves and seeing either one of them leave would be a disaster. Andras agrees and the trio slowly begins to learn how to share their love. For awhile it all goes well until one day a German Nazi officer (Ben Becker) walks in the restaurant and approaches Ilona.
I don't quite know how else to describe my experience with Gloomy Sunday other than to say that almost five years after I first saw it (entirely in German without English subtitles) I still think about it. I did some extensive research to learn more about the fate of Reszo Seress and his song as I found it strange to say the least that a simple melody can force hundreds of people on the verge of committing suicide. Suffice to say the more I read the stranger it got.
Directed by Rolf Schubel this Hungarian-German production is easily one of the most stunning stories I have ever seen. For the unsuspecting viewer what might seem as your standard love triangle story is actually a perfectly structured film that delivers all the necessary components an intelligently made love story should offer. Above everything else however this is simply a beautiful film to behold. The Danube River, the beautiful old city of Budapest, and of course the enigmatic Erika Marozsan will without a doubt keep your eyes glued to the screen in a manner you have not experienced lately. Furthermore Gloomy Sunday offers a story that should appeal to those who prefer adult storytelling and not the cheap and often sugary plots we have come to expect from mainstream cinema. Each character is fully developed and there are no standard clichés that would spoil an otherwise sublime narrative. With other words this is an entertainment made for the thinking adult.
Gloomy Sunday is without a doubt a European film that I could only describe as a timeless epic. I am aware that too often film critics use this specific term to unjustifiably hype up a certain film they think deserves the proper accolades. Allow me to distance myself and claim that Gloomy Sunday indeed deserves all the praise it has garnered so far. This is a film that easily ranks as one of the best ever to recreate the domed relationship between three human beings and its intelligently structured narrative is between the best to ever come out of Europe.
How Does the DVD Look?
Before I comment on the video quality let me point out to you that there is not a single version of Gloomy Sunday other than the herein reviewed R3 disc (and the replica Thai R3 disc) that offers English subtitles. I have researched nearly every market that occasionally springs an English friendly release from Brazil to France to Greece to Russia (where English subtitles are not mandatory) and this is indeed the only DVD release that you could get your hands on (for the record the German release is not English friendly).
With this said the R3 version is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it does appear to be a direct port of the existing German DVD. Unfortunately the R3 disc leaves much to be desired as the image is not enhanced for widescreen TV's and the print suffers from some noticeable transfer issues. With other words…I still hope that sooner or later either the UK or Australia will come out with a deserving edition. (As I understand it the R1 rights have been acquired by a very small independent company which will most likely channel the DVD release through an "established" distributor such as Ventura, Facets, etc. I hope I am wrong!!).
How Does the Film Sound?
Presented with its original German soundtrack Gloomy Sunday offers a nice German DTS track which I would have gladly sacrificed in return for a proper transfer and a 2.0 sound mix. I have nothing against DTS tracks on Asian releases of European films but most of the time they certainly do not deliver the needed results. On the contrary they detract from the video presentation and Gloomy Sunday certainly proves my point. With optional Chinese and English subtitles.
The following extras could be found on this disc:
Original theatrical trailer-
Film Clips-a selection of short scenes
Soundbites-a few selected interviews with the main actors and the director of Gloomy Sunday. All of the interviews are subtitled in English.
Music Video- an English version of Gloomy Sunday performed by Heather Nova
I am certainly unsure how to grade this film/DVD release. As a DVD reviewer I strive to balance my evaluation of the DVDs that I receive in a manner that would adequately address both the quality of the film and the manner in which it is presented on DVD. Given the unfortunate treatment of Gloomy Sunday I have decided to go against all of my standards and grant the film a RECOMMENDED mark because of its enormous beauty and of course because of the fact that there is no other English-friendly version currently in existence. I urge you to give this film (DVD) a chance especially considering how reasonable its price is. You will be rewarded with an amazing and powerful cinematic experience. And hopefully you could forgive me for recommending an inferior disc to you.
To see the original theatrical trailer to Gloomy Sunday please visit: