Apparently Barry Manilow isn’t the only one who can write the tunes that make people want to kill themselves. In 1930’s Budapest, a song called “Gloomy Sunday” was written and upon its release and immense popularity, drove hundreds of people to their deaths. It’s not that it’s a bad song. It’s just that it’s so intensely weepy, it inspires those on the edge to take that final step. And now, “Gloomy Sunday” the movie, features the creation of that song, but is also about so much more. Get ready for melodrama.
The film opens in modern day Budapest where a man is celebrating his 80th birthday at a restaurant. Shortly after requesting the classic “Gloomy Sunday” tune, he keels over, clutching his chest. Was it the curse of the song, or was it a bad beef roll? If you stick around for the next two hours, you’ll definitely find out, but until then, director Rolf Schübel takes us back in time 60 years for a love triangle tale featuring suicide, good food and Nazis…oh my.
We meet Laszlo, the owner of one of the finest restaurants in Budapest, and Ilona, Laszlo’s girlfriend and restaurant partner. When they decide to hire pianist Andras, that’s when the relationship between Laszlo and Ilona gets a little more interesting. Laszlo can’t deny the attraction building between Ilona and Andras, so instead of fighting it, he decides to share her with the quiet musician, who goes on to pen the melancholy tear-jerker “Gloomy Sunday,” which ends up turning into a smash hit around the world and ultimately drives many people to commit suicide.
And then there’s Hans, a German salesman who shows up as a regular customer at the restaurant because of his love of Laszlo’s beef rolls and…you guessed it…Ilona. So here Ilona is with another man wrapped around her finger, but she’s a two man only girl, and she refuses Hans’ advances.
It’s pretty silly how quick everyone seems to fall in love with this girl, just as silly as Hans’ devotion to beef rolls and certainly as silly as hundreds of people killing themselves to the tune of some sappy song. Silly is kind of a running theme here in “Gloomy Sunday,” so as the films plays out, it doesn’t bother you quite as much.
So we then flash forward a few years to find Nazis descending upon Budapest. Hans returns to the restaurant, but this time as a colonel in the SS, yet he hasn’t forgotten the salesman within him. For Jews willing to pay, he uses his power to grant them safe passage out of the country where they will be free from Nazi persecution. Laszlo, being Jewish himself, is one of many people counting on Hans to help him out.
And so the continues the melodrama that is laid on so thick at times that the film’s events take on a humorous tone. But, like I mentioned, “Gloomy Sunday” never really breaks from this theme, so it’s more of a bizarre humor rather than laugh out load funny. Great performances and tight filmmaking help you stick around for the ride, as well. This is a truly strange love story that definitely grew on me as it ran its course, or perhaps it was just that infectious song sinking its hooks into me. Perhaps it would be a good idea to take my gun out to the backyard and bury it.