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An American of German descent arrives in post-war Germany 1945. His uncle gets him a job on the Zentropa train line as a sleeping car conductor. The American's wish is to be neutral to the ongoing purges of loyalists by the Allied forces and do what he can to help a hurting country, but he finds himself being used by both the Americans and the influential family that owns the railroad. After falling in love with the railroad magnate's daughter, he finds that he can't remain neutral and must make some difficult choices. Written by
Ed Sutton <email@example.com>
Von Trier once explained how he created such strong involvement from the viewer with his movies by placing his movie world in about the middle of the real world and the imagined world. So as viewers we think we watch a "true" story while in fact we are thoroughly manipulated, often to the point that the movie works disturbing (Dancer in the Dark) or painful (The Idiots/ Idioterne). Of course the Dogme-films acted only as a vehicle for this theory (besides creating some welcome spotlight on Von Trier).
The story is typical for Von Trier: our hero is idealistic, seems to balance his relations with everybody else, but soon becomes the victim of the problems others have created in the past for themselves. The idealist inevitably has to reject society in order to stay idealistic and becomes the terrorist. Mankind is spoiled and purity only leads to (self-)destruction. (These elements were also very omnipresent in Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark.) The movie is also full of cynical (even humorous) undertones about the role of the Germans and Americans in post-war Germany.
As a technical achievement the movie is wonderfully designed: shifting and fading washed-out colors, screen overlays, action on different overlays (with the shooting of the soon-to-be mayor as the most interesting). In this movie we can see how good Von Trier's handles film as a technical medium. In his later works he seems to step down from this (as if he is not longer interested in technical achievements because they become so easily available).
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