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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>
In the morning, the sleeper has found rest on the bottom of the river. The force of the stream has opened the door and is leading you on. Above your body, people are still alive. Follow the river as days go by. Head for the ocean that mirrors the sky. You want to wake up to free yourself of the image of Europa. But it is not possible.
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Zentropa is another von Trier film that manages to tell an authentically interesting story, revel in its own aesthetic beauty, and engage us in questions of metaphysics. The films narration, as described above, sets the gauntlet very high. The often tired flashback/hypnotism/relapse/etc structure poses a certain disaster to most of the films that dare to use it. However, it is pulled off masterfully.
With Zentropa, we must first buy into the introduction. We prepare ourselves to relive these moments, and allow the film to justify its use of this down the tracks. However, we learn very quickly that what we have been sold is not the standard omniscient perspective. It is distorted and fragmented; emotion has been poured on too thick at parts, while in others it is spread too thin. We must accept the story directly from a mind that we considerably mistrust.
The rest of the film tirelessly reconstructs the scenes of this deranged mind. We transition from b&w film, to color. From a nearly mystical hope, to an absurd pessimism. Time moves too slowly, but abruptly jumps ahead too quickly. von Trier understands the architecture of this 'hypnotic' state supremely.
The movie progresses sporadically which is mandatory given the structure. von Trier plays wonderfully with the noir genre, he throws in some espionage, some sex, love, hats and guns. Finally, he skillfully introduces issues of morality, war, and responsibility- adding a rich political dimension to an already layered film.
The final scenes are visually the most beautiful in the movie, and some of my all time personal favorites. The quiet, tenseless moments in this sequence finally allow us to sink into a comfortable pace and an agreeable aesthetic.
Ultimately, von Trier has framed this film around a giant question of reality. As is his standard. The fact that this metaphysical dimension continually impinges upon the film, justifies its validity. The question was artfully asked. And beneath this works a noir film, a veritable feast of imagery, and wonderful performances.
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