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Gloomy Sunday


Gloomy Sunday


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In Gloomy Sunday, an 80-year-old German man celebrates his birthday in a Budapest restaurant, requests that the staff violinist play the title song, and promptly drops dead of a heart attack. "That song, it's a curse," the restaurant manager says with a sigh. The scene then dissolves to the late '30s, and the image of Erika Marozsán in the same restaurant. The lithe, seductive Marozsán simultaneously fends off and indulges the sexual advances of restaurant owner Joachim Król, traveling salesman Ben Becker, and Italian pianist Stefano Dionisi, who writes "Gloomy Sunday" for his would-be lover. The three men take turns wooing Marozsán up to and through WWII, as Dionisi's song becomes a global sensation, in part because of its reputation for driving people to suicide with its melancholy beauty. Meanwhile, Król frets that his Jewish background will cost him everything when the Nazis, led by Becker, finally invade. Director Rolf Schübel and his co-screenwriter Ruth Toma adapted Gloomy Sunday from Nick Barkow's novel, which was itself based on "Gloomy Sunday," a real song legendarily responsible for a rash of suicides in '30s Europe. Barkow places the song in the context of approaching war and adds the tangled love story (which pointedly involves a German, an Italian, and a Jew fighting to win the heart of a liberated European girl), using "Gloomy Sunday" as a metaphor for the refined maliciousness that swept the continent. Schübel stays out of the story's way, adding only a few deliriously melodramatic touches, like a newsreel montage of the "Gloomy Sunday" suicides. Gloomy Sunday's success in transcending its own clichés and conventionality–at least until the morose finale–is due in part to the story's primal romantic pull, aided by attractive actors who either stare longingly into each other's eyes or cavort in states of undress. Schübel reduces love to a syrupy concoction of hopelessness and lust, and haunts it with music, providing a wordless, whispering moan throughout scenes both dramatic and mundane. The soundtrack alone ensures that Gloomy Sunday gets stuck in the head, like a stubborn melody.