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Winter Entertainment: Gloomy Sunday And The Heart Of Me

Mark Tregoweth
Mark Tregoweth

Films to inspire and entertain this winter.

Gloomy Sunday (1999) ***

A haunting musical score and captivating story inspired by the infamous 1930s 'suicide song' Gloomy Sunday, this is a remarkable film that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.

The song casts a spell on films lead characters pianist/composer Andras, Jewish restaurant owner Laszlo and Ilona the beautiful woman they both fall for and drift into an unconventional love with.

The film opens in current times with an elderly man celebrating his 80th birthday.  He suffers a heart attack in restaurant after requesting a musician play the song. The story then moves back in time to the 1930s tracing the songs life.

Inspired by his love for Ilona, Andras composes the song.  It gains recognition and quickly becomes popular but is blamed for a rash of suicides around the world burdening the composer.

The fragile balance of the erotic ménage a trois is sent further off kilter when a young German falls in love with Ilona, who rejects him.  He returns several years later as a Nazi officer determined to have her at any cost.  He serves his own future by becoming a hero of sorts saving Jews willing to part with their life savings for safe passage out of Hungry while betraying the trio.

Unique amongst many foreign language films, Gloomy Sunday’s subtitles seem to vanish as the intricacies of the plot take hold of you, pulling you into a time, place and characters destined for tragedy.

Betrayal, love, hatred and jealousy are served generously as raw emotions lift the film to a level reminiscent of epic dramas of yesteryear.

While not a film to lift spirits, Gloomy Sunday is an experience you’re bound to remember.
The Heart Of Me  ( 2002)***

Bad blood and family feuds erupt when two sisters have little in common apart from the love of the same man, in the period drama The Heart Of Me.

Stunning sets, exquisite costumes and a formidable cast make it easy to travel back in time to England in the mid thirties.  Based on Rosamond Lehmann's 1953 novel ‘The Echoing Grove’, the film adaptation features a central storyline big on irony that tries in vain to lift itself from a high class soap status.

The film begins in 1936 and follows the lives of sisters Madeline (Olivia Williams) and Dinah (Helena Bonham Carter) over 10 years, as they reunite for their fathers funeral. Cold and fixated on appearances, Olivia is happily locked into a loveless marriage with Rickie Masters (Paul Bettany), a well-bred and well-to-do London businessman.

Single fun-loving and unpretentious Dinah is the opposite of Madeline, a carefree spirit she is searching for love not necessarily marriage.

After the funeral their mother tells Rickie that he is now head of the family and it is his duty to keep an eye on Dinah. Taking his responsibility literally he begins to question whether he has married the right sister. While Madeleine attempts to marry her sister off to a suitable gentleman, Rickie and Dinah discover each other.
As their passion ignites fate and family ties do everything they can to keep them apart. Misfortune, family secrets, sudden revelations and secret rendezvous arrive in generous helpings as the story follows its course through wartime England to its conclusion.

Set at a time when keeping up appearances mattered more than life itself, the films success comes from the performances of its two female leads as Dinah and Madeline, Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams take their characters from the heights of upper crust civility to the depths of deceit and dilemma as their lives spiral out of control. As Rickie, Paul Bettany offers an able portrayal of his character, but still short of convincing the audience of whether anyone would want to fight over him.

While The Heart Of Me may not be in the same class as British classics Remains Of The Day and A Room With a View, the mayhem and misery this melodrama produces is entertaining.

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