Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Day Thirty-Three: Europa (1991) - Rank 5/5


"Europa" has to be one of the most controlled and pragmatically executed films I've ever seen. Mixing special effect and filmmaking styles from a multitude of genres, generations and directorial influences, it beguiles the eye while blowing the mind. To think that this is the product of Lars von Trier shatters your preconceived notions of the director and his films altogether. Trier is notorious (along with a few other Danish directors) for establishing the Dogme 95 mindset of filmmaking, where filmmakers are encouraged to make films without props or sets, superficial action like murders or war, special lighting, etc (Harmony Korine's "Julien Donkey-boy" would be a prime example of this). Two shots from the film below demonstrate that not only is Trier's "dogmatic" approach to fimmaking absent, it's the very archetype of what he endeavors to eradicate.


If this is what Trier produces for film corporations with high budgets and precise control, then I find it heartbreaking that he has left this manner of filmmaking behind. The film is, for lack of a better word, stunning. The fine mix of black-and-white with color, high contrast lighting mixed with rear-screen projection...they all exude the prowess of a veteran of the field, yet it's early in Trier's career. Dogme 95 evolved after this film's creation, so it's possible that its production led to Trier's bitterness towards Hollywood. Pity.

The plot can be described only as hypnotic - fitting considering that Max von Sydow's mellifluent voice counts down from ten in a deliberate attempt to hypnotize you at the film's onset. One is then left to wonder whether the entire film is nothing more than the hallucination of an individual in a trance, with each character and predominant object serving as a representation of something within the subconscious of that being. Our main character, an American operating a sleeping car in post-WWII (1945) Germany, is duped into assisting rebels in blowing up the train he commands. This Germany is an exaggerated form of reality, a futuristic version of the past (akin to the depiction of the late 1930's in "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow"). His involvement in the plot leads us into a nightmarish realm where reality takes a nap in one of his sleeper compartments, leaving us with only the surreal. Far too complex to fully process in one sitting, yet the film's mood stays with you long after watching. I can't help but think of my friend Peter's saying while reflecting about this film: "A good film is like a good pizza - it keeps coming up inside of you, yet each time it does it, it tastes just as fresh as when you first enjoyed it." A strange analogy, yes, but only fitting for such an atypical story.

Watch the Trailer

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