Ein Lied von Lieve und Tod -- Gloomy Sunday
Ein Lied von Lieve und Tod (="A song about love and death")
is a German/Hungarian movie that screened first on 21 October 1999
in Germany, directed by Rolf Schübel and starrring
Joachim Król, Ben Becker, Stefano Dionisi and Erika Marozsán.
The background of this movie is the origin of the song
that I have in the version by Sarah Brightman,
and legends associated with the songs.
Europe of Culture Co-orperation (ECC)
mentions in their section "Eurimages" (the European Support Fund for movies
details of this movie [which seems to have disappeared; 24 June 2007],
including this description:
Budapest during the 1930s. Laszlo Szabo and Ilona Varnai run a restaurant
which becomes famous due to a song. "Gloomy Sunday" opens the hearts of its
listeners, but the melancholy within also skirts along the darkest depths.
The young house pianist Andras Aradi composed the ballad for Ilona - out of
love. But Ilona's heart throbs for both men - for Andras and for Laszlo. A
triangular relationship develops between them in which all of them find
their happiness, more or less, until the German Hans Eberhard Wieck falls
entirely under the spelt of the song, and for Ilona's beauty as well. A few
years later Hans returns as an SS officer to Budapest which meanwhile has
been occupied bu the Germans. A man who threatens to destroy the fragile
balance between Ilona and her two men ...
Some more info can be found on
web page [which seems to have disappeared; 24 June 2007], where I read
that the movie is based on a German novel by Nick Barkow, entitled Das
Lied vom traurigen Sonntag (="The song of sad Sunday"). That web page
also contains some reviews and more detailed info on the story, as well as
snap shots from the movie.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
also lists the movie.
And I see that the German movie is available on VHS and DVD via the
Amazon's German web site (which is
where I found the above movie poster); have not found it in English
Judging from what I read on these web sites, the movie seems worth seeing.
On the other hand, Zoé Orosz wrote the following review and that
makes me wonder whether I would like the movie -- probably not.
Somewhere in Budapest, in a posh restaurant, the staff
awaits in excitement the arrival of a German company.
When they get to the restaurant, we get to know that
the elderly guest had known and much liked the place
before the war.
During lunch he asks the musicians to play his
favourite song, "the famous one", but as the
well-known tune begins, and he recognises the old
photograph of an elegant woman on the piano, he
suddenly gets strangely startled, then ends up on the
floor in heart attack.
The owner of the restaurant remarks on the effect of
the song, and that it was written to his mother for
love, and here we go back about 60 years in time.
Ilona can't make her decision. She will either stay
with László Szabó,
the wealthy owner of the Szabó
restaurant, or run away with the churchmouse pianist,
András. But, as László
says it in the movie, Ilona wants two things at the same time: hunger and
fulfilment. So instead of Ilona, the two men decide: they will share.
"So is that it?" I ask myself half-way through the
movie. András with his beautiful, sad eyes will not
make up for the flat story-line, and neither will the
pathetic triangle of lovers, with its completely
unrealistic human reactions. The role of Hans, Ilona's
German admirer, who becomes a nazi officer, Hitler's
rampage through torn-up Europe and László's
being Jewish, doesn't help much either. And of course
all this accompanied by András' song to Ilona, that
with its melancholy beauty made hundreds of people
throughout the world commit suicide. András
contemplates the "message" of his song, which then
becomes a re-returning topic of conversation, but
leads us nowhere. Not as if explaining everything was
a standard expectation, but when you're left with
absolutely no clue, you kind of have the feeling of
meaninglessness, and just hope that the suicides were
not it. Do I really have to go through this? Why am I
so utterly frustrated with these people, and why is it
that I simply can't believe that the two men were ever
The actual historical basis of the story has been
completely rearranged and has gone through so much
change that the average viewer might never even get to
suspect that it has any background at all.
The writer of the song was originally called Rezsõ
Seress, which of course does not sound nearly as
appealing as the truly attractive András Aradi. The
man was small, and not at all handsome, could barely
play the piano at a small, run-down pub in a run-down
district, full of run-down guests. The Kispipa (Small
Pipe) was and still is located in the 7th district of
Budapest. He was nicknamed the "whistler", because he
had a poor voice, couldn't sing. Despite this fact, he
was well-known and much liked for the atmosphere he
could create. He had a guest book for his visitors
that had signatures such as John Steinbeck, Spencer
Tracy, George Cukor, the Prince of Wales and Louis
Armstrong in it. Though he was considered ugly, he had
a beautiful wife, much taller than himself, who had
left her wealthy officer husband for this man. As a
result of the success of Gloomy Sunday he became a
millionaire but could never get to his money in
America because of his fear of heights. He couldn't
get on an aeroplane. Few people know his other songs
today, or even that Gloomy Sunday was written by a
The song was named the anthem of suicide, because the
record or the text was found near many people that
committed suicide in those days. The legend of the
magical spell that will cast people into a deep
depression and finally make them commit suicide is
probably not true. Nevertheless, it had greatly
affected the people who heard it. The days were such,
with Europe in the gate of World War II, with nazism
emerging and the tensions of the great depression,
that it might have had something of significance in
its atmosphere. Even Freud interpreted it as the
confirmation of one of his theories.
The success of the song got ever greater. The Gloomy
Sunday Clubs in the United States and the news of the
suicides created considerable dispute over whether it
should be altogether banned, while well-acknowledged
artists of the day created death-robes and
skull-shaped pianos under its influence.
Eventually, Seress himself committed suicide and died
in 1968. He jumped out of his window.
I will recommend the movie to anyone that is willing
to sit through the whole thing just for the sake of
the surprise at the end. It is the one single truly
inventive episode in the very last couple of minutes,
an idea that I guarantee nobody will ever suspect
during the entire eighty something minutes.
© Zoé Orosz, 2001.
Many thanks to Zoé Orosz for help and information,
and to Zsuzsanna Berenyi for a correction.
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created: 24 May 2001
last modified: 24 June 2007