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Paramount Classics
Official Site
Director: Eva Bardos
Producers: Peter Hoffman and Colleen Camp
Written by: Eva Bardos
Cast: Nastassja Kinski, Tony Goldwyn and Scarlett Johannsson

Rating: out of 5

Based on writer/director Eva Bardos’ own experience, AN AMERICAN RHAPSODY tells of a family’s five-year separation brought about by Cold War politics in the 1950s. In the film, Bardos is Suzanne, (Johannson). Her parents decide they must get out of Hungary, even though they are quite well-to-do. They live in a stately mansion and her father is a successful book publisher. The parents (Kinski and Goldwyn) and an older sister sneak out of the country relatively unscathed. Yet six-month-old Suzanne is to be smuggled out later that evening with the help of a peasant woman, who plans on drugging the infant to keep her quiet and stuffing her in a potato sack. When Suzanne’s grandmother, who is assisting them in their escape, hears of this, she is horrified. In a panic, she refuses to let the peasant woman take the baby and instead she finds a farmer and his wife willing to take in the child until she can devise another plan to get the infant across the border.

Suzanne spends her formative years blissful and happy, playing in the countryside, raised by a couple who love her as if she were their own. Meanwhile, her parents, somewhere in suburban America, wring their hands anxiously, cry and write letters to government officials trying to get their daughter back. After five years, they are successful and Suzanne comes to America. She doesn’t speak the language, and popular culture of the 1950s—TV, Elvis, hula-hoops and backyard barbecue—is completely alien to her.

With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, history seems to say America won the Cold War, but AN AMERICAN RHAPSODY indicates there are far more uncounted losers. A family is separated for five long years, and when Suzanne finally does come to America, it is at the expense of the family who lovingly raised her since she was an infant. Suzanne later returns to Hungary to visit them and it’s obvious they never really got over her absence. Suzanne herself is the biggest victim of all. Brought into a strange new country, unfamiliar with the language or the culture, she is confused and homesick. As a teenager, her anxieties fulminate.

Cultural assimilation coupled with teen rebellion has great potential for a story line, but perhaps it’s too personal a subject for this first-time director. Bardos never seems to let anyone in close enough for her own experiences to be conveyed effectively, and so much time is spent setting up the story, there’s little time left to explore the characters. We know the traumatic separation and subsequent culture shock must be awful, but with such underdeveloped characters, it’s hard to care.

As a result AN AMERICAN RHAPSODY is a fairly nondescript film. It tries to be a youth rebellion flick, but it works much better as a reminder that a refugee’s journey does not end upon leaving their native country.

—Nancy Semin

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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