A review of “Gloomy Sunday” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for nudity and mild violence.  In German with English subtitles

Run Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes



A haunting melody with the evocative title of “Gloomy Sunday” pervades a romantic melodrama that spells doom in the most delicious fashion.

          Budapest, circa 1940.  Smoky-voiced Ilana Varnai (Erika Marozsán) has put her music aside and is hostessing at the city’s old school eatery, Szabo’s. Her lover, restaurant owner Laszlo Szabo (Joachim Król), is riding high; madly in love with his spirited squeeze, enjoying his burgeoning success, and auditioning pianists to entertain his bustling dinner trade.

          Enter moody musician Andres Aradi (Stefano Dionisi), who tinkles the ivories while falling hopelessly in love with the seductive Ilana.  Since neither Andres nor Laszlo can bear to be without this spectacular woman, they agree to endure a love triangle wherein Ilana will continue to play lover to both.

          Struck dumb by his unforeseen passion, Andres composes a moody piano piece in honor of his lady love.  The effect of his sentimental ballad is so painfully bittersweet that the song appears to be the cause of a burgeoning number of suicides in the Budapest area.  In each case, the victim has taken his or her own life accompanied by the melancholy strains of “Gloomy Sunday”.

          “Gloomy Sunday” becomes a worldwide smash, fueling the legend and making Andres a rich man.  Simultaneously, the Nazi war machine crashes its way into Hungary, bringing with it an SS Colonel (Ben Becker as Hans Wieck) who has long worshipped Ilana and will do anything to have her as his own.

          Gloomy Sunday is the complete dramatic package – poignant, passionate, and only occasionally straining the boundaries of reality.  The moody narrative skirts the bleaker issues of Nazis vs. Jews in favor of a loose focus on the bewitching force of the feminine mystique. Multiple love scenes are soft and sexy, born of an era unencumbered by social and sexual taboo. 

          Period romance has rarely felt so fertile – wallow in it.