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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » An American Rhapsody
An American Rhapsody
Paramount // PG-13 // January 22, 2002
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 19, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


A small, personal (well, it's autobiographical) film that got rather lost among the Summer's bigger offerings at the box office, Eva Gardos' writing/directing debut, "An American Rhapsody" is a fairly good film that eventually starts to lose steam about halfway through. The film stars Scarlett Johansson ("Ghost World", "Man Who Wasn't There") as Suzanne, a young girl who was unintentionally left behind by her parents when they escaped in the 1950's from Hungary because crossing the border with an infant was too dangerous.

Suzanne lives with a foster family during her early childhood years, while her family lives in America and desperately tries to secure a way for her to come to live with them. After years of writing to various government agencies, the family finally is whole again, but Suzanne is now 6 and suddenly living with parents she doesn't know, in a country that she's not familiar with. Things are generally pleasant when she finally gets to America, but there's a sorrow from missing her adoptive parents that continues on. The performance by Kelly Endresz Banlaki as young Suzanne is really excellent - terrific emotion and expressions throughout.

We then fast-forward to Suzanne at 15, played by Johansson, who has turned into a rebellious teenager - she's not doing anything that most teenagers aren't, but she's running up against her mother (Nastassja Kinski), who has become abnormally overprotective. Meanwhile, her adoptive parents miss her and Suzanne feels not only angered, but split between two worlds - and trying to find her identity at the same time. Eventually, her father (a superb Tony Goldwyn) allows her to return to Hungary on a journey to see where she came from once again. Johansson's performance is the best of a fine group; she's natural and wonderfully believable in the role.

Yet, there's a point this picture reaches where things start to become a little less engaging. While the performers do a fine job in their respective roles, it becomes rather difficult to be interested in watching the mother and daughter fight. I will give credit to the two actresses, though - these scenes don't quite become shrill. Once the film finally reaches the teenage section, it becomes a bit uneventful and rather predictable. If it wasn't for Johansson's performance, I would have likely began to lose interest.

"An American Rhapsody" is impressive technically for a small picture. The film has an impressive period feel; cars, clothes and all the other details of the 50's time period are very well portrayed. Production designer Alex Tavoularis and cinematographer Elemer Ragalyi have done a simply marvelous job.

"An American Rhapsody" is a sincere and heartfelt picture that I have to say I felt positively about after it was over. While it isn't as well-told as it could be, I liked the performances and quite liked the look and feel of the picture.


The DVD

VIDEO: "An American Rhapsody" is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a very good effort that's unfortunately kept from being quite as fine as it could be from a few minor irritants. Sharpness and detail are solid, as the picture appeared crisp and well-defined throughout. While most of the movie is in color, some of the flashbacks are in beautiful black and white.

Unfortunately, some problems do arise on occasion. Minor edge enhancement does appear noticably during a few scenes, but I didn't find this extremely irritating. No pixelation shows up, but there are some infrequent specks and marks on the print used.

Colors were presented quite beautifully. The film boasts a warm, rich color palette that appeared well-saturated and not smeared or otherwise problematic here. While some imperfections are visible, this is still a nice looking effort.

SOUND: "An American Rhapsody" is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 - some portions of the film are presented in Hungarian with English subtitles. I did not expect a great deal of activity to the audio - there simply isn't a need for audio fireworks in a picture like this one. That said, the audio is still pleasant, and there are a few light instances where the score comes up in the surrounds. Other than that, the audio stays to the front, mainly focusing on dialogue and a few light sound effects. The audio remains clear across the board, with no complaints.

MENUS: The menus are very basic, with simple film-themed images as backgrounds.

EXTRAS:

Commentary: This is a commentary from director Eva Gardos and producer Colleen Camp, who originally met on the set of "Apocalypse Now" (oddly enough, this film was also released on the same week as the "Apocalypse Now" re-release.). It's definitely apparent that the two are good friends and they chat quite energetically about the long process that it took to finally get the film made. There's a few spots where the track tends to drag a bit while the two praise those they worked with, but it's interesting to hear a lot of the production stories and real-life history behind the story, which Gardner provides. The track is thankfully rather light at times, as the two joke about some of the things that happened on-set.

Also: The trailer.

Final Thoughts: "An American Rhapsody" is an interesting tale with very good performances, but it's also a rather uneven film that starts to become predictable and somewhat slow in the second half. Still, those interested should certainly seek it out as a rental. Paramount's DVD is a very nice offering - they have provided a solid commentary for the small film, as well as good audio/video.

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