Europa (Lars Von Trier) 1991

The Europe trilogy was Von Trier’s first major attempts at film.  All of the films are centered first around traumas of Europe both past and present.  The other themes are of people that unflinchingly follow a dogma and which turns out to be their downfall.  The Element of Crime is about a detective brought in for one last case (because of his specialty training to put himself in the mind of a killer).  In the end, we learn because he has done the technique so much his mind became deranged and he has become the killer he had been hunting.  In Epidemic, we follow a doctor determined to cure a spreading plague across Europe but finds out he had been the carrier the whole time.  In Europa (or Zentropa) we are in postwar Germany.  Leopold is an American of German descent who gets a job as a sleeping car conductor from his uncle at the Zentropa railway.  Leopold wants to remain completely neutral but is pulled both ways by an American general wanting him to be an operative and a femme fetale who wants to draw Leopold into sabotage on behalf of the Werewolf (the remnants of the Nazi sympathizers).

Now the Europe trilogy was rather inconsistent and more a way of Von Trier to feel himself out before finding his stride as a major filmmaker.  The Element of Crime was more style out of substance and Epidemic was a huge steaming pile of sh*t.  And that’s coming from a huge Von Trier fan.  Europa is the most balanced of the three and among his better efforts.

For one, this movie is gorgeous to look at.  Von Trier uses every camera trick from color images imposed in a black and white film, artful use of back projection, a dreamy noir like atmosphere, and nicely composed shots.  You can tell that Von Trier has seen all of the great noirs and it plays like a greatest hits collection. The story is a tad inconsistent.  Near the middle it is a little too meandering, however the ending is exciting and makes up for it.  I have never seen Jean-Marc Barr in a movie before, but he is cast perfectly as an everyman caught in the middle of international intrigue.  We also get welcome cameos from Udo Kier and Max Von Sydow (doing a voice over through the movie). Europa is one of Von Triers most accessible and straightforward films and probably the easiest movie of his to get into.  It is just a well executed and intriguing noir.

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