Reviewed by: Trinity

"Defies convention."

"At the count of ten you will be in Europa..."

Against the stark backdrop of post WWII Frankfurt, American conscientious objector Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr) returns to his homeland to help rebuild a country awaking from a nightmare. His uncle (Ernst-Hugo Jaregard) gets him a job as a conductor on one of the sleeper trains that criss-cross the country carrying the starving as well as the rich.

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He falls in love with Katherina (Barbara Sukowa), the daughter of the owner of the vast Zentropa rail complex, while becoming entangled in a scheme to sabotage the transport network. Given orders by a shadowy pro-Nazi organisation, as well as the American Colonel Harris (Eddie Constantine), he finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game, where he cannot remain neutral.

The death of Katherina's father and her revelation that she was once a member of the partisan Werewolf group leads him to make choices, which go against his pacifist principles...

Before Lars von Trier launched Dogme 95, he produced his Third Manifesto, in which he proclaimed himself a "masturbator of the silver screen" and vowed to make a masterpiece that would utilise every visual trick the medium allowed. In Europa, he has transferred this vision to the screen.

From the first few frames, as the measured tones of Max von Sydow's voice mesmerise you, he defies convention whilst making a film faithful to the style of the post war classics.

Dialogue switches back and forth from English to German, and from black-and-white to colour. It is impressive that the visual effects are achieved in situ, using a combination of rear and front projection to allow foreground items to be picked out in colour.

Unfortunately this leads to some occasional, awkward running-on-the-spot by the lead characters and a tendency to overemphasise significant plot points. But the timing of the transitions is perfect and their use allows for the creation of a surreal atmosphere.

Details are beautifully observed throughout the film. A nice touch is Kessler's observation that it's cheaper to be unemployed than pay the many fees required to work in the country. The casting of Eddie Constantine draws comparisons between Kessler and Lemmy Caution in Godard's Alphaville.

Von Trier also recalls the work of Welles, Hitchcock and Lynch in his camera styling and settings. From falling snow outside churches and power struggles over chess games, he manages to encompass the well-worn staples of the wartime thriller. Unfortunately, after working up to a tense and almost farcical climax on the train, things fall apart a little at the end.

If you are willing to accept the narrative from the beginning, you'll find this a very satisfying and imaginative session on the couch.

Reviewed on: 10 Aug 2002
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Europa packshot
A German-American returns to the land of his forbears to help with the reconstruction after the Second World War.
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Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier, Niels Vorsel

Starring: Jean-Marc Barr, Barbara Sukowa, Udo Kier, Ernst-Hugo Jaregard, Henning Jensen, Eddie Constantine, Max von Sydow

Year: 1991

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Denmark


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