American Rhapsody (SE)/ B+, A-
Paramount/2001/106/ANA 1.85

      A heartfelt movie made with passion and love and understanding,  American Rhapsody is extraordinarily personal. That's one of its great strengths. Based on writer/director Éva Gárdos' own story of coming to America from Hungary as a young child and growing up, the film touches the heart. Her character's journey is not complete until she returns to Hungary as a young woman to seek out her origins and find some peace within the conflicts that exist from her divided  upbringing.
      When the Communist world tightens its grip on Hungary, infant Suzy winds up left behind as her parents Peter and Margit are forced to flee Budapest. The opening of the film, depicting the separation of the family and the escape from Hungary is shot in black and white. It's an excellent choice for the powerful prologue that sets the stage for everything that follows. It isolates the most threatening tone of the film and even emphasizes it. 

Beautiful black and white opening. ©Paramount

     The emotional conflicts that must be faced are extremely powerful. Certainly, natural parents Peter and Margit must be reunited with their daughter. They loved Suzy and when she was left behind as a baby, it was for safety reasons and it was only to be for a very short time. The wonderful couple who safely care for Suzy in rural Hungary love her like their own child. They bring her up in a loving, warm, bucolic setting.   It's a Catch-22. No one wins. Finally, a time comes, when Peter and Margit are able to bring Suzy to America. Ultimately, it is Suzy carries the burden of the emotional dichotomy.
     Some of the scenes on Suzy's arrival in America are fantastically drawn to moving effect. They flow with a natural innocence, perfect considering the innocence of the child. The relationship between Suzy and her older sister rings very true. You feel for the older sister who gives up center place in the world of her family. The portrait of suburban America in the 1960's is depicted convincingly. The music helps establish the period and some of the social differences as well. 
     Teenage Suzy is a good role for Scarlett Johansson. She's a troubled young woman. Her sadness is highlighted by the depiction of Suzy as the sunniest, most delightful, young child. The journey to America may be a no-brainer, but to witness the consequences that the upheaval in Suzy's life causes is very sad indeed.  It's a melancholy journey that must run its course.  
      Natasha Kinski gives an impressive performance as Suzy's mother Margit. She has consistently grown as actress. She's fragile yet strong. While her emotions may often be overpowering as Margit, Kinski controls the power of the character to paint an anguished by loving portrait. Tony Goldwyn is very good as the father. In past performances, I've found Goldwyn somewhat unremarkable, but in American Rhapsody, perhaps the character gives him something to dig his acting chops into. Goldwyn's portrait certainly finds a sympathetic edge. Ágnes Bánfalvy, a well-known stage actress in Hungary,  is amazing as Margit's mother Helen. What a great presence. She dominates the screen whenever she is on it. Kelly Endresz-Banlaki is charming and thoroughly engaging as the young Suzy.  Balász Galkó who plays Jeno, who stands in as Suzy's father in Hungary has an incredible look. There is no question about the authenticity of his character. You believe every syllable he utters. 
     Gárdos commands the medium very well. Her story is nicely balanced. Visually, American Rhapsody is quite beautiful. It's an outstanding production. Suzy's emotional journey is a rewarding experience. Audiences should be grateful to Éva Gárdos for sharing these beautiful memories of the immigrant experience.
     American Rhapsody has been turned out in luscious transfer clothing by Paramount. From the clean black and white opening images that have a wonderful contrast range, subtle shadow detail and deep, true blacks to the color in the United States which has a more saturated look than those in Hungary to the Shadow detail is consistently excellent. Fleshtones are replicated with a nice range. The transfer effectively captures the subtly different lighting schemes of the film. It's a very sharp picture with only slight peak  transitional edge ringing. The white subtitles in the Hungarian scenes are clear and easy to read on the image. They never impede the flow of the film at all.
     The special edition audio commentary by Éva Gárdos and producer Colleen Camp is very detailed and engaging.



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