Europa (1991)

4/5

Danemark/Germany/France; Lars von Trier


Parental Guidance – Violence; Language


The place is Germany, the year is 1945. Leopold Kessler (Jean Marc Barr), an American of German descent, returns to his ravaged country to help rebuild. With the help of his authoritative uncle (Ernst-Hugo Järegård), the young man gets a conductor job in the Zentropa railway company. His delicate situation seems to improve when he fortuitously befriends the influential and controversial family that owes the company. However, the illusion fades quickly and the naïve hero finds out that, even above healing, it is exorcizing that the country needs. 

There are some misunderstandings concerning Europa, which many rushed to deem a “political thriller” but is at heart very far from this realm. True, Trier’s opus, last part of his Europe trilogy, is an unpeeling and often nerve-wracking mystery with both political and horror overtones, but as the layers go off one by one, it blatantly becomes an experimental surreal film. With each step deeper, reality becomes more remote and the viewer is plunged into a nightmarish claustrophobic world.
Europa is a movie that doesn’t progress horizontally, towards a logical conclusion, but rather vertically towards an inner kernel buried under a collection of strata and crusts.

The tension builds slowly and the atmosphere thickens with dread and menace, but, truth to be told, the dénouement is disappointing and feels precipitated, despite a gut-wrenching extended last scene that embodies all the shock power Lars’ cinematography carries. It’s a visceral and disturbing finale, but it can’t mask the narrative weakness of the ensemble.

When it comes to form, Europa breathes inexperience, despite – or maybe precisely because of – its crafted sophistication. Trier shifts between lavish black-and-white and odd splurges of color, experiencing multiples angles, double-exposures, optical effects and trick photography, but fails to convey the grit and immediacy his row Dogma aesthetics so successfully did in his later years.   

A definitively unusual cinematic breed, Europa is halfway between a Kafkaesque trance (with Orwellian undertows) and a Hollywood spy adventure flick. This unlikely marriage is nothing short of surreal at times and, despite its lack of consistency, remains a chilling and gripping spectacle.

Europa    Europa2

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