Monday, June 11, 2018

Classics: A Review of An American Rhapsody By Lauren Ennis


One generation’s sacrifices and hopes all too often prove to be the restraints and burdens of another. This is particularly true in immigrant families, as the traditions and struggles of one generation collide with the aspirations of another. The universal clash between parents and children is explored with particular poignancy in the 2001 drama An American Rhapsody. Although inspired by the real-life experiences of director Eva Gardos and her parents, who fled the oppression of life behind the Iron Curtain, An American Rhapsody is a universal tale of identity and family that will resonate with children and parents alike.

Get the hankies ready
The story begins in 1950’s Budapest as Margit (Natassja Kinski) and Peter Sandor (Tony Goldwyn) plan to escape from Soviet-occupied Hungary with their two young daughters. When their plan goes heart-wrenchingly awry, Margit’s mother is imprisoned for her role in aiding the family’s escape and the couple’s youngest daughter, Suzanne, is left behind to be raised by a couple in the Hungarian countryside. Although Margit and Peter maintain contact with Suzanne’s foster family, she spends her first six years largely unaware of her biological family’s existence. After years of struggling, Margit and Peter are finally reunited with their daughter in the United States, but the reunion proves far more complicated than anyone anticipated as Suzanne continues to long for the only life and family that she has ever known. Cultures and generations clash as Suzanne grows into a rebellious teenager and continues to reject her biological family, who she can neither understand nor forgive. When tensions between mother and daughter finally bring the family to their breaking point, Suzanne makes a life-altering journey back to Hungary where she uncovers vital truths about both of her families and herself.

An American Rhapsody follows in the tradition of such family dramas as The Joy Luck Club and The Namesake in its tale of one family’s struggle to bridge the gap between drastically different cultures and generations. The film aptly portrays the oppression that the Sandors face in Communist Hungary, where they lose their successful publishing company to the control of the state and loved ones to the horrors of the gulags. The film avoids the trap of idealizing the family’s new life in the U.S., however, by depicting their struggles to fit into their new home amidst the conformity and anti-communist sentiments of 1950’s America with equal skill.  The script cleverly juxtaposes the gritty reality of Peter and Margit’s Budapest with the idealized childhood fantasy of Hungary that Suzanne nostalgically longs for. Simultaneously, the film also conveys the family’s very different perceptions of their new home, which Peter and Margit view as the land of opportunity and Suzanne sees as a gilded prison. Through its dual perspectives the film aptly conveys the complex reality of the family’s unusual situation, in which there are no easy answers amidst years of misunderstandings and missed opportunities. It is through this subtle portrayal of cultural and generational conflict that An American Rhapsody relates a tale which is sure to resonate with children and parents across America and beyond.

Back in the USSR...
Through its uniformly excellent performances, the film weaves a tapestry of love and heartache that spans across cultures and generations. Natassja Kinski turns in an achingly real performance as she captures Margit’s longing for the daughter who remains just beyond her reach. Tony Goldwyn aptly portrays Peter’s internal conflict as he struggles to build and maintain a better life for his family amidst personal and political tumult. Zsuzsa Czinkoczi and Balazs Galko are the personification of a loving family in their by turns endearing and anguished performances as the couple who love Suzanne as their own, only to ultimately lose her to her biological family. Scarlett Johannsen perfectly captures Suzanne’s angst and alienation as she grows from a confused and lonely child into a willful and headstrong teen. The supporting cast provide equally strong performances that are engaging from the film’s opening credits to its final fade.

At once a deeply personal story of one family and a universal tale of family life, An American Rhapsody is essential viewing for the entire family. Through its intelligent script and emotionally engaging performances the film captures the conflicts that threaten to break families apart and the love that binds them together. For a viewing experience that will take you inside the complex and contradictory rhapsody that is a family tune in to An American Rhapsody.

Not so different after all

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