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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In 1995, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg created what is known as the 'Dogma 95 Manifesto'--a series of rules that these and other Danish avant-garde film makers would adhere to the in the future. I mention this because although "Europa" was made by von Trier, the film does not at all adhere to these rules--as the film was made four years before this film movement was deliberately created. Von Trier's use of black & white film (interposed throughout the film with muted color), sets, incidental music, non-hand held camera, the use of a crane for a few shots and setting the film in the past were all techniques he would eschew only four years later. I guess he was just getting it out of his system!
The beginning of "Europa" is very, very strange. You hear the voice of Max Von Sydow and he leads the audience in a hypnotic induction--taking you back to the year 1945--just after WWII. And, later, you will once again hear the voice of Von Sydow talking throughout the film like a hypnotherapist--a VERY unusual way to narrate this film.
The film plot revolves around an odd and rather non-emotive American, Leopold Kessler. It seems that he was a pacifist during the war and has moved to Germany to work for the railroad. This is odd, I know, but it gets a lot more unusual than that... I would try to explain the story, but frankly it all becomes very surreal and a bit weird. Additionally, while the film is supposed to be about a group of post-war terrorists named 'Werewolves', the film does NOT attempt to provide an actual history lesson or really discuss their actions. My advice is like all surreal films, don't try to understand it or make sense out of why von Trier made it--just absorb it and make of it what you will (or not).
My feeling about the film is that I liked it because of its bizarreness and innovative cinematography. Sure, there are a few sloppy portions (such as the dubbing of the Colonel's voice) but what's important is that this film was made in 1991. Using computers to make this sort of project would be pretty easy today--but back in 1991 personal computers were still a bit rare and amazingly underpowered. Yet, von Trier was able to use black & white mixed with occasional splashes of grainy color--a difficult trick in its day. There are also very very beautiful camera shots throughout the film (such as the bombed out church in the snow) which are achieved through superimposing characters into scenes he shot previously. Totally weird, confusing but visually arresting. This is NOT a film for the average person--they probably wouldn't have the patience or would demand a more coherent and traditional plot. But, it's the sort of thing that is worth seeing once--it's that unusual and unique. The style, the narration, the cinematography and the music provide a once in a lifetime sort of experience.
If you get the DVD, be sure to see if it has the French documentary "The Making of 'Europa'", as it explains the various very innovative camera tricks that were used. Additionally, just how complicated it all was to make is revealed...and it took two years to make!
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