Europa – Review

24 Dec

In the past, I’ve talked about my admiration for Lars von Trier. I understand that I should never take social lessons from the guy, in fact, that would be the last thing I ever do, but it can’t be denied that he makes exceptional movies. The most recent one that I have seen of his is Europa, which is a very strange, but very beautiful movie. It’s hard to talk about this one because it’s so unconventional and almost defies all rules of genre, but it would be a cinematic sin to not give this movie its due.

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Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr) is an American who moves to Germany at the end of World War II to work as a sleeping car conductor for the Zentropa railway. His uncle (Ernst-Hugo Järegård) begins training him for the rigorous test that must be taken to be an official conductor for Zentropa.  Meanwhile, Kessler meets Katharina Hartmann (Barbara Sukowa), whose father founded Zentropa, and they soon fall in love and begin a relationship. Because of the political unrest of Germany at the time, the American Colonel Harris (Eddie Constantine) enlists the help of Kessler to spy on the Hartmanns out of fear they may be working for German terrorists. As Kessler’s life continues being pulled in all these different directions, it is only a matter of time before he breaks down and loses control of the entire situation.

As I was watching this movie, I found myself becoming bored often. It’s not an easy watch in terms of entertainment. There’s a lot of dry dialogue and some of the acting is more than shoddy. Jean-Marc Barr delivers some of his lines like this is his first acting gig. The story, itself, can get confusing and muddled with all of the characters and their conflicting dialogue being thrown around. It all gets pretty jumbled really fast. These problems really drag the movie out and make it feel a lot longer than it actually is. Luckily, there’s a lot of positives to Europa that save it from being a pretentiously boring effort by Von Trier.

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In 1993, Steven Spielberg released a little movie called Schindler’s List, where there was a scene with a  girl in a red jacket in a sea of black and white. Von Trier beat Spielberg by two years by using the same stylistic choice in this film. The way that the process is done is a lot different than it is in Schindler’s List, but this movie is very different in a lot of ways. The tricks with color amongst the black and white photography is done a lot by having a subject shot in color that is being filmed in front of a projector that is playing previously shot black and white footage. A lot of cool trickery is done with projectors in the background and a subject in the foreground that gives Europa a really unique style.
Europa is also very interesting when it comes to genre. There are a lot of different ones that I see here from noir to a World War II espionage thriller to a good old fashioned romance. The way all of these different genres are pulling against each other reflects the way that the different characters are pulling Barr’s character in many different directions. All of this, along with the symbolism and metaphors that I don’t think I can quite explain, makes for a very interesting movie, but it’s still pretty jumbled and overstuffed.
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Europa is much more interesting than it is entertaining. It’s a film to watch to appreciate how it’s made and the innovations that Lars Von Trier put into it. It works as an experimental film, a noir thriller, and a romance. The story is interesting enough, but the execution feels messy at times and the I lost track of the plot from time to time. If it wasn’t as boring as it was, I’d say it would be an amazing movie, but because of these detractions all I can say is that I appreciate it for the work of art that it is, but I don’t need to see it again any time soon.
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