. This third in an obtuse trilogy, (after THE ELEMENT OF CRIME and EPIDEMIC) is Danish wunderkind troublemaker Lars von Trier at his inspired best. We sense the brilliance of this film from the opening sequence, as we watch the railroad tracks click by in a trance-inducing blur, guided by the mesmerizing velvet voice of the great Max Von Sydow, invisible narrator- or is it manipulator? His voice is literally hypnotizing the viewer: (“I shall now count from one to ten… I say ONE…”) We feel ourselves drawn in, engulfed like a juicy bug caught in a spider web, calmly accepting the spider’s warm cocoon- even knowing how the encounter will end. (“At the mental count of ten you will be in Europa. Be there at 10… I say TEN!”)
(directed by Lars Von Trier, 1991)
****+ (out of 5)
> You are in Germany. The year is 1945. You are on a moving train. And the nightmare begins.
. I have loved almost every film I’ve ever seen from this is one-of-a-kind auteur, from the stagy but compelling DOGVILLE to the fascinating experimental hybrid of THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS to the mesmerizing wooziness of MEDEA, to the cosmic shock of MELANCHOLIA. (The notable exception? ANTICHRIST, a hellish film I loathed so passionately, it is the only film I wish I could UN-see.) The delightful treat of each new project is that every new Lars Von Trier film is an entity unto itself, standing quite apart from his other works. It’s like the man re-invents the wheel every time, which means you never know what you’re going to get- and this is a good thing for film lovers! I suspect the highly eccentric filmmaker is not “sane” in the usual sense of the word- he creates his own creative realities, and either you go with each foray into the unknown or you are left behind. It’s his way or the highway. By all accounts, the man is a shameless self-promoter who clearly nurtures his reputation as an iconoclast, bordering it seems, on megalomania. (Witness the calculated addition of “Von” to his name: all a part of his branding, he explains.) But it’s easy to forgive the excesses if his films are going to be as entertaining as this!
. Most of this extraordinarily artful film was shot in luscious black-and-white, to powerful visual effect, and bathed in the high-contrast and stark lighting of SIN CITY. Every frame is dazzling to behold. Like its director, EUROPA is an odd duck: a highly stylized pseudo-noir that is both absurdly comical and highly dramatic, becoming quite the thriller in the closing scenes. This has got to be one of Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin’s favorite films. Stylistically, it’s almost homage to him. EUROPA dances merrily around the edge of surreal melodrama, just as all of Mr. Maddin’s unique experiments do, mixing liberally from cinematic traditions to create a new and strangely compelling chimera that is both fresh and retro, original and derivative, familiar and alien. Evocative rear projections are used liberally, to formal and studied effect. This is a mood piece, and the atmosphere is so dense you could cut it with a knife. Lars Von Trier pulls out every trick in the book from CITIZEN CANE to STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, in a paranoid frenzy that feels like a bad Franz Kafka fever dream.
. The plot: a naive German-American idealist emigrates to Germany just after the war, where his crusty uncle has secured him a job as a railroad conductor, despite horrific unemployment and the privation of begging mobs in the train stations. Unwittingly, our rather bland hero gets drawn into political intrigue that he wants no part of. Will this moral man be manipulated into bombing the very train he works on, in order to save his kidnapped bride? Naturally, as befits the noir tradition, there is more to his femme fatale than meets the eye- hence the “fatale”. As the tone shifts from eerie funhouse to desperate madhouse, we can feel the film drifting to an inexorably tragic outcome. And when all is done, in all its horrible karmic justice, that disembodied narrator drones on, taking us further, far further than we would ever want to go, as the tides pull us to the ocean.
. At the end: “You want to wake up, to free yourself from the memory of Europa. It is not possible!”
. No kidding!
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