An American Rhapsody (2001)

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Rental Version Only
Available for Rent

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Writer/Director Eva Gardos & Producer Colleen Camp
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 102:00
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Éva Gárdos
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Scarlett Johansson
Nastassja Kinski
Raffaella Bánsági
Tony Goldwyn
Ágnes Bánfalvy
Zoltán Seress
Klaudia Szabó
Zsolt Zagoni
András Szöke
Erzsi Pásztor
Carlos Laszlo Weiner
Bori Kereszturi
Péter Kálloy Molnár
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI Rental Music Cliff Eidelman
Penka Kouneva


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
English for the Hearing Impaired
French for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     It was while perusing through Scarlett Johansson's filmography on the IMDB, after countless viewings of Lost In Translation mind you, that I came across An American Rhapsody - a film which previously I never knew existed and one which I'm very grateful I discovered.

     The story of An American Rhapsody is for the most part an autobiographical account of director Eva Gardos' childhood and adolescence. Although not explained in the commentary, her character's name in the film is Suzanne. Not long after her birth in Cold War Hungary her parents made a daring escape across the border into Austria - the first stop on a one-way trip to the land of freedom, America. Due to the huge risk involved in crossing the border with a baby, Suzanne was left behind. When the plan to have her taken over the border separately shortly after fails she is left behind in Hungary indefinitely under the care of some family friends in another town.

     It is not until several years later, after the death of Stalin, that Suzanne is finally reunited with her parents in America who now, like her new surroundings, are totally unfamiliar to her. Thrust into this new world Suzanne now has the difficult task of accepting that the parents she had come to know in Hungary were not her parents at all. Many years later as a teenager Suzanne returns to Hungary to rediscover her history and heritage and to try and piece together the puzzle of her family's past.

     The film stars Nastassja Kinski and Tony Goldwyn who both put it in remarkable performances as the parents of young Suzanne. The ever gorgeous Scarlett Johansson plays the role of Suzanne at 16 - a troubled teenager struggling to find her place in the world. Scarlett fans (of which I'm obviously one) should note that while she does play a leading role in the film, other the prologue, she doesn't appear until the 59 minute mark. The highlight performance of the film however has to go to young Kelly Endresz Banlaki who plays Suzanne at the age of 6. This 6-year-old with no prior acting experience plays the integral role with relative ease, defying her age and experience to provide a very memorable performance. .

     My only reservation is that the film is simply not long enough - it could have so easily stretched beyond the two hour mark and still have sustained audience attention. Having said that, given the time and money that was available for making this film, which incidentally was US$3.2 million and 31 days, it is a fine achievement. Incidentally it is also Eva Gardos' directorial debut. An American Rhapsody is a fascinating and enlightening film that should be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

     Finally, it is worth noting that An American Rhapsody has been available only as a rental DVD for over two years now and there appears to be no indication from Paramount that this is likely to change. To me this seems to indicate that Paramount, at least in Australia, have absolutely no quibbles with the importing of DVDs from other regions. No doubt this comment will draw some criticism, but let's be honest - if you want to own a copy of this film on DVD what other way are you going to get it?

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The transfer is presented in 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced - this is very close to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

     Detail is reasonably high throughout with only the occasional stock footage - some of which has been masterfully restored - appearing a little softer than the rest of the transfer. Shadow detail is very good with the image exhibiting a high contrast range. There is no low level noise.

     The start of the film which takes place in wartime Hungary is in black & white with the film switching to colour after crossing the border into Austria. I found I was so engrossed in the story I didn't even notice the transition. The film features a warm but not vibrant colour palette, no doubt chosen by the filmmakers to give the film the period feel of the 50's and 60's - which they succeeded in successfully. Skin tones are very accurate.

     Some minor pixelization is present in the backgrounds from time to time although the film grain does a very good job at hiding it. Certainly this indicates that slightly less compression should have been used. There are a few brief moments of aliasing but it never represents a significant problem. Film artefacts are present and quite consistent throughout the transfer, however they are mostly very small and unobtrusive.

     There are three sets of subtitles present - English, English (Hungarian translation only) and an English commentary. They are very accurate.

     This is a single layered disc. The main file size is 4349Mb.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 at the somewhat disappointingly low bit-rate of 384Kbs. The language is mostly English but partly Hungarian (which is electronically subtitled in English - they're thankfully not burned in).

     Dialogue is loud and clear with no problems to speak of. There are no sync issues.

     The music is by Cliff Eidelman and Penka Kouneva and is particularly notable in its uniqueness. While I can't say I'm all that familiar with Hungarian music, this has what can only be described as a distinct Hungarian flavour. The combination of both traditional and modern music provides immense support to the film and is a pleasure to listen to. There are also a few period music interludes including All Shook Up by Elvis Presley which have been used to great effect.

     Disappointingly the surrounds are used for little more than supporting the music and even then the levels at which they have been recorded are so low that they may as well not be there at all. It's really a shame because there are many moments where some general ambience in the rear channels would have improved the sonic experience.

     The subwoofer is used sparingly to support the music which is about as much as one could ask for from a movie of this nature.

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Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Audio Commentary - Eva Gardos (Director) & Colleen Camp (Editor)

     This is very interesting, enlightening and enthusiastic commentary from Eva Gardos and Colleen Camp. From the outset we learn that they are both old friends who first met on the set of Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece Apocalypse Now. Naturally my curiosity got the better of me and I had to check the IMDB to see what their respective roles were in that film. So, for you trivia fans out there, Eva was responsible for casting the Montagnard Tribesman and Colleen was one of the Playboy bunnies. There are many topics covered throughout the commentary which naturally includes first hand knowledge of the story on which the movie is based. Budget and time limitations are also addressed, particularly how compromises which were made often turned out to be blessings in disguise. A great commentary in every respect which left me quite prepared to ignore the fact there is little else in the way of extras on this DVD.

Theatrical Trailer (2:17)

     Presented in 1.85:1 and not 16x9 enhanced with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. A theatrical trailer - little more needs to be said really.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     Our Region 4 version appears to be identical to the Region 1 version (except for the PAL/NTSC differences obviously) which unlike here is available to buy. There appears to be no Region 2 version, at least in the UK, making our one and only rental version the only real PAL alternative unless it has been released somewhere in Europe. If you find a copy for sale in Australia it will be an ex-rental DVD and an extremely lucky find. I searched through five video rental outlets here in Sydney before I found a copy just to rent. The Region 1 version still has an RRP of US$29.95 making it a somewhat expensive import.

Summary

     An American Rhapsody is a fascinating film based on a remarkable true story.

     The video transfer is good although a slightly cleaner print would have been desirable.

     The audio transfer is unspectacular but adequate.

     The extras are very limited but the excellent audio commentary more than makes up for it.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ben Hooft (My biography. Go on have a read...)
Sunday, October 31, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-655A, SACD & DVD-A, using S-Video output
DisplayLoewe CT-1170 (66cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderPioneer VSX-D1011, THX Select, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS 96/24 & DD 5.1 EX. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D1011, THX Select, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS 96/24 & DD 5.1 EX
SpeakersFront & Centre: Monitor Audio Bronze 2, Surrounds: Sony SS-SRX7S, Surround Back: Paramount Pictures Bookshelf Speakers

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