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Genre: Drama Thematic Trilogy (Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany, Switzerland)
Starring: Jean-Marc Barr (Breaking The Waves), Barbara Sukowa
Directed By: Lars von Trier (Dogville; The Idiots)
Overview: Soon after the Second World War, an American of German descent begins working for a railway, but finds that those around him use his particular situation for their own political machinations.
In Epidemic, Lars might have been wise to choose better actors. Of course he was still in the 'proving himself' phase of his filmmaking career and I suspect it's the main reason why the performances suffered. In Europa however, it's clear that much of the talent remained in Lars' shortlist of call-backs for many other films (or mini-series) to come. From the Draconian conductor to the American Colonel, we have many people sitting just fine in the role of using others.
I've just come to realize, and correct me if I'm wrong, but Lars von Trier is not the type of director who has a signature look to his films, short of being pretty consistently Avant-Garde. Yes, that's a good thing, because as he learns and grows, so do we. Let it not be said that Lars is the sort of director who stagnates in a cinematographic style. In Europa, however, he might shine brightest, as the standard Black and White intermingles with moments of vivid colour. The frequent use of rear projection and other low-key special effects add a nice element on top of the already beautiful storyboards.
What I failed to appreciate more than anything in this film was the narration. Spoken as instructions through hypnosis to our protagonist, I wouldn't say that this theme of being in a semi-conscious state is one that was ever maintained outside of narration. By that I mean, I don’t know what Lars was trying to pull, but I didn't like it. Besides that it's a story well told with the rare all too cliché moments of "So did you lie about loving me as well?", but given the theme it's quite possible this was done on purpose, cradling the films of the era.
I was following you there for quite a while, Lars. Then, all of a sudden you pull some high-art Euro-trashy ending that makes so little sense that I have to go look up its significance, but I won't because I care that little. I'd say "I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed."
The themes of making a film as it would have looked were it made in 1945 is a nice undercurrent to this tale of German war wounds slowly healing. Astute viewers will appreciate how Lars challenges and limits himself technically in this story of a character who ultimately is powerless, though happens to be a pawn in a game much bigger than himself. This is the sort of film that transports, even if it doesn't particularly take you anywhere.
Overall Rating: 76% (You're... Oh... Ah...)
Gorgeous, yet empty, I found this story very similar to Broken Flowers when it ended. You think there's a story being told, you learn lessons along the way, but in the last act, the last scene, you're left asking, "Wait a damn minute? You call that an ending? Why couldn't you finish it in a way that could be just a tad more rewarding, especially when everything else was so well done?!"