Review by Logan
Unlike most guys, I am drawn instinctively to love stories. I like a good love story almost as much as a good action story, and in some cases, even more so. The problem is that good love stories are few and far between. Hollywood has produced so many of them that after a while, they all start to sound the same. Occasionally you get one that has a unique twist that makes it interesting.
There are also times that you have to go quite a ways back to find such a compelling story. That takes us back to 1940, in a little gift shop in Budapest, where we meet Alfred Kralik, played by the ever-popular Jimmy Stewart (It’s a Wonderful Life). With time, we’re also introduced to Klara, who is hired on at the shop. The two of them find it nearly impossible to work together in any capacity, and, in our 21st Century lingo, hate each other’s guts.
There’s nothing new there. A lot of romantic films start out with the two protagonists hating each other. But there’s a layer of irony added to this. They’re actually writing to each other as anonymous pen pals.
As the film develops, you see two seemingly contradictory trends develop. Alfred and Klara grow to hate each other more and more at work, while falling more in love with each other through their letters. There’s some other drama that happens pertaining to their boss, who’s quite a lovable character, but that’s a side note. It’s the relationship of these two characters, and their simultaneously loving and hating each other that showcases the film’s particularly marvelous worldview.
A lot of their differences at work come from a personality clash, as well as a seniority clash. Alfred was there first, and sees himself as the superior in their relationship. Klara, on the other hand, is a stubborn woman determined to prove her place in the business. The result is an ever-growing tension between them.
So why did they fall in love with each other through the letters? The answer is simple. When you write a letter to someone, you decide what parts of you they see. Naturally, we choose the good parts and leave the bad parts out. Alfred and Klara had seen the worst of each other at work, because they were both exhibiting very selfish attitudes and behaviors. But through the letters, each saw in the other a side that they never would have taken the time to see, had they known who was writing them.
So this story at its heart is really much more than a story about love. It’s a story about how hate robs you. How by continued anger and hostility you are truly robbing yourself! Additionally, it twists and perverts your image of that person. Neither Alfred nor Klara had an accurate view of the other person. This is one of the many reasons why Jesus says: “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22).
There are additional story elements that make it a film worth watching. Their boss Hugo is a kind man who teaches us many things about how an employer ought to treat his employees. Ferencz, a co-worker of Alfred and Klara’s, is just plain funny. The chemistry between the two main actors is phenomenal, rounding it out as an excellent film. The only downside is that it runs a tad bit longer than necessary for the plot. In the end, I give this one a solid 4/5.