Volume 73, Number 33 | December 17 - 23, 2003


Koch on Film

Gloomy Sunday (+)
This film, in German with English subtitles, could have been much better than it is. The story takes place in Budapest toward the end of World War II when the Nazis, under Adolph Eichman, rounded up Hungarian Jews sending tens of thousands to Auschwitz where they were murdered. As far as I know, this particular story is not based on specifically identified people.

In this film, we follow the lives of four people: The debonair restaurant owner, Laszlo (Joachim Krol), a Jew and lover of a Christian woman, Illona (Erika Marozsan), a waitress in his restaurant. The third character is a musician, Andras (Stefano Dionisi), also a Christian who falls in love with Illona. Ultimately a ménage a trios is created. The fourth character is a German businessman, Hans (Ben Becker), who visits the restaurant one evening, bizarrely becomes immediately infatuated with Illona and asks her to marry him. She rejects his proposal. Years later, Hans returns as a Nazi colonel during the Nazi occupation of Hungary.

Andras creates a song for Illona which he calls “Gloomy Sunday,” the words and melody of which have an extraordinary impact on people causing some to commit suicide. Such a song was created in real life causing such a phenomena. I remember the news stories at the time more than 60 years ago.

While much of the movie is tender and poignant, it very often becomes a soap opera in script. The acting is not spectacular and the overall script is not first rate. While it is not a wonderful film, it does create a mood conveying what it must have been like to be a Hungarian Jew living in fear of losing one’s life at any time when the Nazis took over. It is worth spending the time to see this film to experience, in a very limited way, what it means to face death and have your life dependent on racist German Nazi officers working for Eichamn who selected the Jews, herded them on to boxcars and allowed some of them to buy their freedom. Regrettably, no mention is made of Raoul Wallenberg the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from death. He was, it is believed, intentionally imprisoned and died in a Soviet prison. Jews will never forget him and annually honor his memory. But this film does not deal with any of that.

The Cooler (+)
One critic referred to this flick as a sleeper but most of them liked it. I think it is a jewel. It reminded me of the English film, “Croupier” which takes place in a London casino.

“The Cooler” takes place in the Shangri-La casino in Las Vegas. A “cooler” is someone with bad karma who by simply standing next to winning gamblers adversely affects their good luck. The house summons a “cooler” to the table of someone on a winning streak.

The Shangri-La’s “cooler,” Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy), views himself as a loser who will never succeed. He has a good relationship with the operator of the casino, Shelly (Alec Baldwin), who years ago beat him, crippling him up when he reneged on a debt.

Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello) is a waitress with whom Bernie becomes infatuated. Bernie’s deadbeat son, Mickey (Shawn Hatosy), shows up with his pregnant girlfriend, and he ultimately pays a heavy physical price to Shelly.

Bernie begins a love affair with Natalie, and it is wonderful to see how love can change both of their lives. Bello, who is a new actor to me, is beautiful and a wonderful performer. Indeed, every character is well acted by the mostly unknown cast in this film. This movie could not have cost much to make, but it can certainly compete with the best of the current films in terms of holding your attention and providing pure pleasure.
–Ed Koch


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