[film poster] 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 Gloomy Sunday that I have in the version by Sarah Brightman, and legends associated with the songs.

The Europe of Culture Co-orperation (ECC) mentions in their section "Eurimages" (the European Support Fund for movies and such) some 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 this 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 on-line shops.

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 struggles, 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 even real?
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 Hungarian.
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