Gloomy Sunday - Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod (Gloomy Sunday) (1999)
Director: Rolf Schübel.
Starring: Erika Marozsán (Ilona), Joachim Król (László), Ben Becker (Hans Wieck), Stefano Dionisi (András), András Bálint (Ilonas Sohn), Géza Boros (Geigenspieler), Rolf Becker (Herr Wieck), Ilse Zielstorff (Frau Wieck), Ferenc Bács (Botschafter), Júlia Zsolnai (Frau des Botschafters), Aron Sipos (Arzt), Ernst Kahl (Zeichner Torresz), Jörg Gillner (Chefkoch István), Denis Moschitto (Lehrling Inas), István Mikó (Kartoffelhändler).
The coming of the Final Solution to Hungary.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Budapest, Hungary. Five Mercedes Benz cars arrive at the restaurant known as Szabo's. AGerman doctor is celebrating his 80th birthday. The manager welcomes the people to Szabo's. The doctor says that he knew the owner Szabo very well. The manager says that was too far in the past for him personally to have known Szabo. The doctor asks for his favorite meal and his meat rolls are brought out to him.
The doctor asks the leader of the band to play "Gloomy Sunday" for him. The group starts playing the tune. He suddenly sees a framed picture of a woman he knew from Szabo's many years ago. Suddenly the doctor doesn't feel so well. He starts to get up from his chair, but falls to the floor. He tries to get up but falls again. His wife is at his side trying to help him.
The manager says that tune is a curse. The tune"Gloomy Sunday" was written for the woman in the picture some 60 years ago.
Flashback.The picture portrait seems to come to life as the actual woman comes onto the screen. Her name is Ilona. She works as a waitress for the restaurant owner, the Jewish fellow known as László.
Ilona plays a tune on the new piano brought into Szabo's restaurant. László sits down beside her to talk to her. A little later the two people kiss.
And now Ilona and László are listening to various piano players trying out to be Szabo's pianist. After the decision has been made on which piano player has the job, another man comes in to play the piano. His name is András and Ilona seems immediately impressed by his looks. So she begs László to give the man a try. He plays and he gets the job.
Another patron at Szabo's is Herr Hans Wieck from Germany. He comes so often to the restaurant because he adores the look of Ilona. Hans asks Ilona to tell the piano player to play a certain tune for him. She goes over and talks with András so sweetly. László watches her as she flirts with the piano player.
László seems a little jealous of András, so he takes Ilona in his arms and gives her a passionate kiss.
At László's place László and Ilona are naked in the bathtub together. He brings some food they can eat right there in the tub. (some nudity) He mentions to Ilona that the piano player has fallen under her spell too. He also says he would love it if Ilona took all her baths in his tub. She tells him: "I like things just the way they are."
Hans Wieck shows Ilona his new camera from Germany. He is about to take her photo, but she says that his beef rolls are getting cold.
The staff throws a little toast for Ilona. László gives her some jewelry and András says he has written a little melody for her. He plays the tune for her. She seems very touched by this and gives András a kiss. Hans comes over and starts playing on the piano, but András tells him: "Hands off the piano". Hans says he only wanted to serenade Ilona also. László separates the two men from each other. Hans tells Ilona that this is his last day in Budapest. He asks her if he can take her photo. She agrees.
On the way home László asks András if he has a name for his tune. András says it's called "Gloomy Sunday".
Hans walks with Ilona and he asks her to be his wife. He wants her to come with him to Berlin. Hans also says in Germany he is going to have the biggest import-export business ever. And it will all be for her. Ilona says no to marrying Hans. Hans leaves for his hotel. It's time to part ways and Ilona decides to go with András rather than László. László says it's alright.
László hangs out on one of the bridges in Budapest. Hans comes over to him to talk. Meanwhile, András and Ilona prepare to make love. Hans leaves. László hears a big splash in the water below. He runs over to find out who jumped into the river.
Ilona gets mixed signals from András so she starts to walk home. He runs after her and they passionately kiss each other.
László has pulled Hans out of the river and saved his life. Now he has to convince Hans that life is something that should be loved and cherished. Hans ends up sleeping on László's couch.
The next morning László takes Hans down to the train station. Hans says he will pay László back some day.
Ilona wakes up in András' apartment. She gets dressed (brief nudity). András tells Ilona that his music professor said that one day he would be a great composer. Ilona says that still might come true for András. They kiss.
A little later in the morning László is looking at produce at the farmer's market. There he sees Ilona together with András. László and András lock eyes when they see each other looking. Ilona turns to see who András is looking at and sees László. She walks over to László and gives him a good kiss. At first László drew away from her kiss, but Ilona is going to get her kiss anyway.
András wants to talk with László in private, but Ilona says if they are going to talk about her, she wants to stay. László says he's been with Ilona for four years and adds: "I'd still rather have a part of Ilona than no Ilona at all." So both guys go walking with Ilona.
At the restaurant Ilona says there are several men here from Vienna who are talking about making a recording of a violin solo of "Gloomy Sunday". She wants László to go over to them and find out about the recording.
László goes over to the table and the Viennese fellows want to know about the tune that the pianist was playing. László says that the pianist composed the tune himself and he calls it "Gloomy Sunday". A Mr. Novak, director of the Lindstroem Record Company, gives László his business card. He says he would like to talk with László and the pianist after closing time.
So László, András, and Ilona sit down with the three men of Vienna after closing time. László negotiates with the gentleman and gets 9% percent in royalties instead of the standard 6% percent.
András comes over to László and says he would like him to be his impressario. László says he'll be his business manager for free. András is very grateful for this.
András waits outside for László and Ilona to finish their love making. (brief nudity) When they come out of the apartment building András invites the two of them to go to Vienna with him. László says that's impossible because he can't shut down the restaurant even for a day. Ilona pleads with him to do it this one time.
András plays the piano accompanied by violinists. Ilona is there to watch András. László is alone in his wine cellar. He gets upset about not being able to go to Vienna and smashes a bottle of wine on the floor.
Back at the restaurant András and Ilona listen to the tune on the radio. László just continues to hang up photos on a part of the restaurant walls. Ilona gently coaxes László over to the radio to listen with them.
András tells the two others of the trio that royalties are starting to come in to him. He also says he thinks his song has a message within it and he must discover that message. The guys get a little drunk and start arguing. Ilona tells them to stop it. They are supposed to be celebrating. Now László says these things are easy to say for Ilona for she has two men, while he and András only have half of one woman. Ilona gets upset and walks back to the restaurant by herself.
The guys see a fascist protest parade. Hungary withdrew from the League of Nations today for Hitler. László says: "If that's a reason to celebrate, there's worse to come." László is also upset about Hitler just taking over in Austria.
Getting more tipsy on booze, László tells Anrás that he is fired for being with Ilona for three whole days in Vienna. Both guys are so drunk that they decide to sleep in the same bed. László tells András that he is rehired.
The next morning the two guys go see Ilona at the restaurant. She just ignores them. László tells her that they both are very sorry, but Ilona says it was her own fault. She observes that both men are unhappy. She adds that she too is unhappy and cannot continue the relationship as it is now. László says that he and András are not unhappy. He also says they both need her and she needs them. At this moment Ilona receives a letter and a copy of the photo Herr Wieck took of Ilona.
László gets a telephone call from the son of the boss of Mendel Industries. He has reserved a table for six in the restaurant. They want to hear the tune "Gloomy Sunday". András asks what about the three of them? Ilona says: "I'll give you both another chance."
Mendel and his sister along with ten other people arrive at the restaurant. The one person who really wants to hear the tune played is the sister. She's in love with the song.
László gets Jewish Professor Tajtelbaum to autograph a photo of himself so he can put it up on the restaurant wall. Tajtelbaum is a little upset that the restaurant serves pork and the place is open both Saturday and Sunday, the sabbaths. László says he never closes, not even for Passover or Christmas.
Mendel thanks László for the great food but his sister says the very best part of the evening was the playing of "Gloomy Sunday".
Later that night the Mendel sister kills herself while listening to the playing of "Gloomy Sunday".
Some reporters take a photo of András and then ask him to comment on the five suicides in Budapest in the last three days. And all five committed suicide to András' "Gloomy Sunday". András is very sensitive and he virtually bolts from his sidewalk restaurant table.
Ilona is upset because András has not reported for work yet. She says he's never late. László says maybe András is reacting to the five recent suicides of people with well-off parents. He adds that the publicity is bringing more customers into their restaurant.
Ilona says that they must go look for András because maybe he himself is thinking of suicide. László says he can't go because he has to wait for the wine delivery. Ilona gets mad at him saying that he cares more about his wine than he does András. She goes to find him herself. She gets on a bike with an advertisement for the Zsabo restaurant painted on it and rides off.
Ilona rides over to András' apartment, but he is not there. She asks some children where he might be and they tell her he is on one of the bridges over the river. László shows up and jumps on the back of the bike. They find András and he does appear to be somewhat depressed.
While the three have a picnic, a bottle of poison falls out of one of András' pockets and Ilona picks it up and looks it over. László says the poison will be safer under his protection and he puts the poison in one of his pockets.
The newsreels of the day have pictures of an exuberant Hitler in such a great mood after his troops had easily taken France. Also on the newsreel is a picture of András. His name is connected to his tune "Gloomy Sunday". "But its magical tones have driven 157 people to suicide in the last eight weeks, in Hungary alone." And now people who are well-off are killing themselves on Manhattan Island.
Three years later. SS Colonel Hans Wieck comes into the restaurant. László is very surprised to see him. He calls out "Hans" and greets the man. Hans says that when they are in public it is better that László uses the term "colonel" with him. And he is ready for his beef rolls.
Hans goes over and hits a few notes on the piano. This brings out András to see who is touching his piano. The two men see each other, but neither acknowledges the other. Hans says to László: "I see the gigolo's still here." And now Hans runs into the beautiful Ilona. He shows her a photo of his wife and daughter.
László now takes Hans into the kitchen to see how his meat rolls are prepared.
Ilona brings András some very colorful flowers. She asks what is he working on? He is still looking for the message in "Gloomy Sunday". She asks him to promise that he will never kill himself. András says: "Not so long as I have you."
The colonel now brings a lieutenant-colonel to Szabo's. The lieutenant-colonel asks Hans if this is a Jewish restaurant? Hans say it's a quality restaurant. The Lt. col. asks why are the owner and the piano player whispering together? Hans tells him to forget the Final Solution at least for tonight.
Hans helps the Lt. col. out of the restaurant. Ilona and András start walking up the stairs. László brings the Lt. col.'s hat to Hans. The Lt. col. loses his balance, crashes into László and both men land on the ground. The Lt. col. says that the filthy Jew attacked him. When he gets up he kicks László very hard. He then pulls out his pistol and threatens to kill László. Hans goes over and grabs the Lt. col. but the drunken man still gets another nasty kick into László who is still on the ground. Ilona and András are shocked at the violent outburst. The Lt. col. says he is going to make mincemeat out of all the Hungarians Jews.
Ilona and András help László get on his feet. Hans rushes over to help. He also apologizes for Lt. Col. Eichbaum's behavior. László and András get into a carriage and start driving away. He asks his friend Hans to make sure Ilona gets home safely.
Ilona asks Hans if he ever build Germany's largest import-export business? Hans says he won't reach that goal until Ilona answers his prayers for him to be with her. Ilona asks him about his wife.
András helps László clean up his wounds.
Hans tells Ilona about the Final Solution coming to Hungary. He then tells Ilona that this was said to her in the strictest confidence. He says he's doing it for László and for her. Hans tries to kiss Ilona but she backs away from him. Hans leaves without a word.
Hans meets András while coming down the steps. Neither man acknowledges the other. András seems to think that Hans is acting so happy because he has had sex with Ilona. He starts walking down the steps and out of the apartment building.
Ilona tells László that the Germans are planning to kill all the Hungarian Jews. László says he has already heard something like that. But, says Ilona, she got the information directly from Hans. László says he wants to put the restaurant into Ilona's hand. She will be the boss and he will be her manager. That way they can't take the restaurant away from László.
Ilona goes to see Hans at his office in the old Mendel mansion. He comes out of his office and sees her. He siys he will come for her after he finishes his meeting with a man. The fellow and his family own a business that is worth more than $60 million dollars. Hans says he will buy the place for $600,000 dollars. The Jewish fellow objects that the price is way too low, but Hans reminds him that he has promised him and his family safe passage to a neutral country. The threat is that if the fellow doesn't sell, he and his family will be going to a labor camp. The fellow sells his factories and other properties to Hans.
Now Hans goes and gets Ilona. She says she has come to ask him for a favor. She asks him if he could give her and her friends a permit to leave Hungary? He says that Ilona will get her permits. While speaking with Ilona the female secretary comes in to say that, according to her book of grammar, there is no hyphen between the words "endorsement obligation". Hans gets really angry at her and she leaves.
When Ilona walks out of the Mendel grounds, she sees András waiting for her. She tries to kiss him but he stops her. He asks what is she doing here? She was in there for 57 minutes. He adds: "I guess two men isn't enough for you." Normally, Ilona would have soothe this matter over with a little flirting with András, but this time she just walks away from him. He grabs her by the arm and swings her around, asking her: "Is one Aryan better than two Hungarians?" She slaps him in the face and walks away.
Then at the restaurant she snubs András. Hans and another German officer come in to have a dinner of beef rolls. László has to tell the officers that because of the shortages, the beef rolls are not available tonight. Hans gets really mad and says: "That's terrible. How will I look now?"
László warns Ilona that Hans is acting peculiar. She asks who is the man with him? That is Col. Schnefke, who does the same thing that Hans does but in Bohemia and Moravia.
The two colonels talk about their nefarious business together. András smokes a cigarette and stares at the two Germans. Ilona comes over and pours some more wine in the soldiers' glasses. Ilona leaves and walks past András without paying him any attention. The two officers talk about shipping out ill-gotten gains by transporting the goods in military coffins.
Hans asks that András play the famous song for them. András just keeps staring at the two officers. Hans asks him to please play the song. András just keeps staring at them. He notices the pistol holder and pistol draped over a chair at Hans' table.
Ilona goes over to the piano and asks András to play. He ignores her, like she has been ignoring him. So she picks up the lyrics to the song and starts singing "Gloomy Sunday". She keeps on going. She stops to ask András to play the song for her. He does and she keeps singing. When she finishes András looks at her, but she looks over to Hans. Saying nothing to András, she heads to the back of the restaurant. While she tries to regain her composure, a shot is heard. She turns around and starts walking toward the dining room.
She sees people standing around the piano area. Hans tells her: "He used my gun." András had grabbed Hans' pistol and shot himself in the head with it.
Ilona and László attend the funeral. Ilona cries. László tries to comfort her. As they walk away from the funeral, Hans arrives and tries to talk with Ilona. She runs away. László starts to go after her, but Hans says he would like to talk with László. He offers his help to László, who says yes. "Can you get me papers to leave Hungary?" Hans answers that as long as he is in charge, László will have nothing to worry about. But he could help László get some of his native Jews out of Hungary. The cost will be $1,000 dollar per person to cover his expenses.
Hans and László get into an argument until Hans tells him the alternative is that his Jewish friends die in concentration camps. And this is how László got involved with Hans' nefarious business.
László tells Ilona that he finally understands the message of "Gloomy Sunday". "I think the song says every person has his dignity. We get hurt. We get insulted. And we can stand it as long as we can hang on to a last shred of dignity. But if one bucket of shit after another is dumped on your head perhaps it's better to depart this world. To leave, but with dignity." He adds that some can hang on, but András was not one of these people.
András closes his restaurant for the purpose of mourning his friend.
Hans signs the permits for Mr. and Mrs. Tajtelbaum after they pay their fee. The woman starts crying and Hans gives her cash back to her "for a new start in Switzerland." Now she cries in gratitude to Hans. He tells her to be sure to tell everyone after the war who it was that helped her get out of Hungary.
The woman says she has an uncle, Professor Moishe Tajtelbaum, who would also be grateful for a chance to leave Hungary. The problem is that he was rounded up yesterday. Hans says he will see what he can do for her uncle.
After Hans collects his money, he puts it away in a coffin in the back room.
Ilona and László listen to Radio London. German troops in Poland are withdrawing along the Vistula River. The Red army is advancing to Hungary.
Ilona and László start getting the royalties from the record company used by András.
In the bath tub Ilona and László listen to a recording of "Gloomy Sunday". László throws a slipper at the record player so it will stop playing the song. He says: "I'm beginning to like it too much." Ilona replies: "I want to take all my baths in your tub." (brief nudity)
László leaves his apartment building. Starting to cross the street he sees three German cars pull up to his apartment building. They rush inside and go into his apartment. Ilona is still in the bath tub busy trying to cover herself and tells the Germans that she does not know where László is.
At the restaurant László writes his will giving the restaurant to Ilona. He is just about to take the poison when the German soldiers rush him. He drops the little bottle of poison and cannot retrieve it.
László is placed in the back of a truck. Ilona arrives screaming that she is the owner of the restaurant and that man is her manager. She says he has a special permit, he's needed. A guard says he doesn't have a special permit anymore. The truck pulls away.
Hans' secretary reads the list of those going to the concentration camp. He tells her to cross out the name of Kaplan. He paid. The secretary now foolishly requests if she can make some grammar changes to the list. He really turns on her and scares her. All of a sudden she starts acting a little crazy. She walks out of the room.
Hans oversees the placement in a truck of his coffins filled with money and jewels. The secretary is picked up by some German soldiers and driven away..
Ilona comes to see Hans again. The guards are gone from the gates so she pedals right up to the entrance door. She runs in yelling for Hans.
She finds Hans burning top secret papers. She tells him that László has been picked up and he needs help. Hans says he will help her. But now he starts kissing her and Ilona can't pull back because she wants to save László. He starts unbuttoning her dress and pulls it down to her waste. (brief nudity)
Hans now gets dressed and leaves without a word to Ilona. He rushes over to speak with the Lt. Col. He wants a special dispensation.
Now Hans hurries to the railway station. László sees Hans and he expects to be saved from the concentration camp. But Hans walks right past László and picks out the mathematics professor, Tajtelbaum.
László has to get onto the train for Auschwitz and the professor gets to go to a neutral country.
Ilona finds the letter László left for her. It's a suicide note, but, of course, we know that László was not able to take the poison. Ilona sits down at the piano and cries.
Iona speaks to András at his grave site. She tells him that László died too, but he never had a grave. They sent him up the chimney.
Ilona is very pregnant. She tells András that she is reopening the restaurant today.
Back to the present.Hans is now dead. His widow cries for him. The manager gives her a glass with all her pearls in it. (When Hans was going down, he tried to hold onto her necklace and broke it.)
They say that Han Wieck died in Budapest of heart failure. "Germany mourns the passing of a great man. During the Second World War he saved more than 1,000 Budapest Jews. After the war he build up Germany's largest import-export firm from scratch."
The manager goes inside the restaurant after everyone has left. He takes out a bottle of champagne for a celebration of the death of Hans. The manager's mother is none other than a now gray-haired Ilona. She is busy washing away all traces of the poison that was supposed to have taken László's life, but ended up taking Hans' life.
My wife and I enjoyed the film. This is a good love story between one woman and two men in Budapest, Hungary around the Second World War. They all meet through one of the men's restaurant where they all worked. What seemed to keep the relationship going strongly was due to Ilona's beauty and her constant attention to both men to make sure they were not overly jealous.
Their lives completely changed with the arrival of the men of the Final Solution. The restaurant owner is Jewish and a candidate for death in a concentration camp. Both men think about suicide for various reasons. Ilona does what she can to convince both men to keep living, but the cards are stacked against them.
And then those damn Nazis have to intervene in their story. Bastards, of course. And their interventions were almost always terrible to say the least.
All three main actors were good.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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