An American Rhapsody

"Very Good"

An American Rhapsody Review


Film doesn't get any more passionately personal than writer-director Eva Gardos' semi-autobiographical "An American Rhapsody," the deeply stirring story of a Hungarian family torn apart by Cold War persecution, reunited through immigration and tested by the stubborn determination of a teenage daughter to explore her roots.

Gardos lived with guardians in rural Hungary until she was 6 because her aristocratic Budapest parents -- publishers by trade -- had to leave their infant daughter behind in order to escape arrest in the wake of the 1949 Communist coup d'etat.

Resettled in suburban Los Angeles after an arduous, dangerous trek across barbed-wired borders to Switzerland, her mother persevered by persistently petitioning every politician and aid organization she could find for help securing little Eva's transport to America. When she finally succeeded, the girl was spirited from the arms of the only family she'd known to be flown to a strange new world of subdivisions, televisions, big sisters and Elvis Presley songs.

Narrated from a decade later by Suzanne (Scarlett Johansson), Gordos' defiant and deliberative teenage alter-ego, "Rhapsody" is a fictionalized account of these events and others that followed as the little girl grows up troubled by the feeling that she didn't entirely belong in her "new" family, no matter how much adoration her parents heaped upon her.

A long-time editor, first-time director, Gordos demonstrates an amazing command of the cinematic language from the film's earliest scenes -- a black-and-white passage that follows Suzanne's parents (Tony Goldwyn and Nastassja Kinski) and 4-year-old sister on their escape from Hungary. This first act is subtly but deliberately shot to resemble "Casablanca" -- a subconscious pop-culture trigger that jump-starts the audience's recognition of the intrigue and danger involved in fleeing from a totalitarian government.

The effect is so powerful that Nastassja Kinski not only begins to look like Ingrid Bergman, she also gives an emotionally mighty, career-best performance that seriously rivals that legendary actress in its impact as she leaves her baby and runs for her life, pulling herself ahead through thickets of overwhelming guilt and fear.

Goldwyn (a talented director in his own right but best known as the evil yuppie from "Ghost") doesn't adopt any Bogey-ism, but he is equally resonant as the noble, courageous father. He plays beautifully the ambition and conviction that not only gets the family to safety in Vienna, but finds them owning their own home in America after just a few years of blue-collar blood, sweat and tears. This is also his best acting to date.

Gordos repeats her feat of instantly establishing an encompassing atmosphere when the action shifts to L.A. With one perfect, color stock footage shot of freeways, circa 1950s, the stage is set for yet another astonishing performance -- that of 8-year-old Kelly Endresz Banlaki as the young Suzanne who is finally reunited with her real family.

When this little girl gets off the airplane and pauses halfway down the stairs to the tarmac, comparing the faces that await her to a crumpled photograph given to her by her grandmother, I came close to tearing up -- and I'm one cynical movie critic.

Banlaki is sublimely natural as she adapts to the sunny, resplendent world of Southern California, staring out car windows in silent awe at the spruce neighborhoods, exploring the wonders of an electric kitchen and experiencing the joys of bubble gum and Coca-Cola. Yet there are always trace of homesickness in little Suzanne, and you can literally see a melancholy growing behind her eyes that will boil over into resentment when Johansson takes over the role.

However, here is where "American Rhapsody" loses its footing. There's no denying Johansson is an ideal young actress to call on for carrying Suzanne's vexed nature to its angst-riddled apex, but this decidedly Generation Y girl is unconvincing as an early '60s sock-hopper.

Suzanne constantly defies her extremely overprotective mother, smoking, sometimes drinking and frequently sneaking out her bedroom window to rendezvous with boys -- all of which is curiously intended as a primer for her longing to return to Hungary for some self-discovery. I just don't see the correlation.

When Suzanne does intrepidly travel by herself back to the country of her birth, visiting grandma and her guardians, Johansson doesn't adequately characterize her soul-searching. A few other foibles bedevil these last few chapters as well -- like the conspicuous but unexplained scarcity of Suzanne's sister in the story.

Yet even with the decline in the heretofore resounding depth in "An American Rhapsody," I still got choked up all over again at the movie's moving finale. Maybe I'm becoming a softie. But I rather think it more likely that this is just a remarkably potent film.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 106 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 28th February 2002

Box Office Worldwide: $850.2 thousand

Distributed by: LionsGate Entertainment

Production compaines: Paramount Classics, Fireworks Pictures, Seven Arts Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

IMDB: 6.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Suzanne - at 15, as Margit, as Peter, Raffaella Bánsági as Suzanne - Infant, Ágnes Bánfalvy as Helen (as Ági Bánfalvy), as Dottie, as Maria

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Dunkirk Movie Review

Dunkirk Movie Review

Britain's epic 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk has been dramatised on film before, but no one...

Killing Ground Movie Review

Killing Ground Movie Review

From Australia, this dark and edgy thriller is skilfully made by writer-director Damien Power to...

City of Ghosts Movie Review

City of Ghosts Movie Review

This award-winning documentary plays like a thriller as it traces the work of a group...

Cars 3 Movie Review

Cars 3 Movie Review

It's been six years since the last Cars movie (there were two Planes movies in...

The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled Movie Review

In her inimitable loose style, Sofia Coppola remakes the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie from a...

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

The surprisingly thoughtful prequel trilogy comes to a powerful conclusion with this robust, dramatic thriller,...

It Comes At Night Movie Review

It Comes At Night Movie Review

This sharply original horror film not only approaches its premise from an unexpected angle, but...

Advertisement
Okja Movie Review

Okja Movie Review

As Tilda Swinton reteams with her Snowpiercer director, Korea's Bong Joon Ho, it's perhaps unsurprising...

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

This may be the third reboot of this franchise in 15 years, risking audience exhaustion,...

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Actually the fourth film in the series (don't forget the prequel Minions), this animated super-villain...

Baby Driver Movie Review

Baby Driver Movie Review

Wildly energetic and so cool it hurts, this action movie has been put together in...

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

There's a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the...

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.