- Format: NTSC
- Language: English, German
- Region: Region 1 (US and Canada DVD formats.)
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 2.35:1
- Number of discs: 2
- Classification: R (Restricted) (US MPAA rating. See details.)
- Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
- ASIN: B001GCATWK
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 247,130 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)
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Criterion Collection: Europa [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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The unquiet twin spirits of Fritz Lang and Franz Kafka preside over Europa, Lars von Trier's sardonic, saturnine vision of just-post-WWII Germany. In 1945 Leo Kessler, a young American of German descent, returns to the shattered land of his forebears to help in its reconstruction. Through his uncle, who works for the huge railway network Zentropa, he gets a job as a trainee sleeping-car conductor and also meets the seductive Katharina Hartmann, daughter of Zentropa's owner Max. But acts of sabotage and murder are being planned by unregenerate young Nazis calling themselves Werewolves, and very soon Leo's hapless innocent abroad starts finding out that, in this time and place of shifting loyalties, nothing and no one are what they seem.
As if to accentuate this mood of nervous ambiguity, von Trier constantly switches from black and white to colour, and from English to (subtitled) German dialogue, often right in the middle of a scene. The cast boasts several iconic figures of European cinema, including Barbara Sukowa (a Fassbinder favourite) as femme fatale Katharina, and Eddie Constantine (from Godard's Alphaville) as a manipulative American colonel, while a literally hypnotic voice-over is spoken by the great Bergman actor Max von Sydow. There's more than a hint that von Trier intends a mischievous side-glance at today's Europe, and today's European film industry, in resentful thrall to the might of Hollywood. And while Europa is gripping and richly atmospheric, it's never without humour. The long, final episode is a tour de force of tragicomedy, with poor Leo juggling the competing demands of love and loyalty, life and death, while being harassed by his uncle who, horrified that Leo has lost his official peaked cap, forces him to wear a knotted handkerchief on his head, as well as by a pair of punctilious railroad inspectors demanding to know how long it takes him to make up a sleeping-car bunk. Lang and Kafka, sure, but maybe a touch of the Marx Brothers, too. --Philip Kemp
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Top customer reviews
However, Europa is a damn good thriller as well as being clever. Parts of the film will keep you at the edge of your seat, Trier really is a true craftsman in film art. Europa also has a very (deliberate) hynotic and dream-like quality.
Without giving away any "spoilers" - the ending is fabulous. It really is about the darkness that is Europe and is aptly set in Germany just after WW2, where Nazi terrorists still lurk in the shadows and occupying forces ruthlessly hunt down any sympathisers. Unfortunately for the main protagonist (played by Jean Marc Barr) sitting on the fence is likely to get you killed...
I can't recommend this film highly enough. It is a shame Trier is unlikely to ever make a film like this again. Much as I like his Dogme95 films (especially Dancer in The Dark and Breaking the Waves) - I feel that this was a style of film-making that could have been continued and developed by Mr Trier...
Buy it now... especially if you want an intellegent thriller and are sick of CGI laden hollywood movies...
Set in 1945, Leopold Kessler(Jean-Mark Barr) is an American with German heritage, who goes back to Germany to help with the restoration of the country. His pacifist ideals however, are soon challenged upon the realisation that he is being used as a pawn by the Werwolf Nazi organisation. His love interest, seductively played by Barbara Sukowa (The Third Miracle, Johnny Mnemonic), is Katarina, the Nazi sympathising daughter of Max Hartmann the railway owner, played by Jorgen Reenberg.
The story is partly narrated by Max Von Sydow, in the form of hypnotic suggestions that add to the surreal quality of the film. The hypnotic theme runs congruently with the desire of the railway owner to repress the memory of the war-time function of the trains which was to carry Jewish prisoners to concentration camps. This is portrayed in a scene brilliantly handled by the masterful Von Trier, where Kessler walks through the train and time into hidden carriages containing concentration camp prisoners and the inescapable truth of the past. This post war repression is further signified by the constant pulling down of the shutters on the train, in an attempt to block out the reality of post-war Germany and the repercussions of the war.
Barbara Sukowa gives an explosive performance as Katarina, and the gradual discovery as to where her loyalties lie give the film an edge of suspense and mystery. Kessler's long suffering but authoritarian uncle is stoically played by Ernst-Hugo Jaragard, who manages to capture the uneasy union of a militant mentality and avuncular affection.
Von Trier's use of rear projection and manipulation of colour with black and white stand in stark contrast to his later works (The Idiots) as these devices have been curtailed under the conventions of the Dogme Collective. In Europa however, they serve to reinforce the surrealist elements of the film, giving emphasis to the main protagonists and lending a distinctive dreamlike quality to the film. A parallel could be drawn between the surrealist nature of Europa and the use of music in Dancer in the Dark to create a hallucinatory sequence, an element often found in Von Trier's work.
Europa is a gripping and absorbing film that takes you on a journey you may wish you had never started. Harrowing, but immensely involving it is a masterpiece that will leave you breathless and aching for more.
"Europa" (renamed "Zentropa" for its non-European cinema release) is a stunning conclusion to eccentric Dane Lars von Trier's so-called "Europa Trilogy", begun with "The Element of Crime" in 1984 and continued with "Epidemic" in 1988. Why Tartan Video have chosen to release only two of these three films at this point on DVD seems somewhat of a mystery.
Filmed in Denmark and Poland, with German, French, American and Danish actors (and a Swedish narrator!), in the English language with occasional passages of German, this is truly a multi-national effort.
von Trier presents us with a dark, wet, dreary, frequently-sinister and mainly-monochrome world in which there are few happy endings, brutally realistic vignettes of human nature and no easy solutions. The end of WWII has left Germany a broken, violent, mean, amoral and mercenary place, its remaining people deeply brutalised, its society and industry almost totally destroyed by the invading and retaliating Allied forces. The American occupying force is reorganising ex-Nazi Germany's industries and economy and offers the only stability of law, and it is clear that Compromise is the order of the day if Germany is to find its feet as a nation again. The society is divided between those who welcome the efforts of the American occupiers and the "Werewolves", those who still harbour Nazi sympathies and wreak vengeance on those of their German countryfolk who collaborate with the Americans.
Into this situation arrives Leopold Kessler (played by French actor Jean-Marc Barr), a young American of German origins. During WWII, he had taken a pacifist stance and refused to fight in the US Army, deserting instead. Now he has come to Germany in the belief that he can make a positive difference to help rebuild Germany in this uneasy peacetime. His dour and war-embittered uncle finds him a job on the newly-relaunched Zentropa national railway (which was used to transport Jews to death camps during the war) as a trainee sleeping-car conductor. Effectively an American foreigner, his presence is resented by many. He quickly falls foul of a deeply inflexible and perfectionist German work ethic (the most often-used German phrase in the film translates into English as "those are the rules"). As an idealist, he falls between the two camps into which Germany is divided and, particularly once he falls in love and becomes involved with the story of the Zentropa-controlling Hartmann family, finds that his idealism is making him a well-intentioned pawn of both sides in the struggle for power.
Critics of von Trier's feature films often argue that his films are lacking in "humanity", and that they therefore simply follow a cynical formula to manipulate an audience. But surely this criticism is more fairly aimed at most latter-day Hollywood "human interest" films, and whatever one's views of von Trier as auteur, there is much to emotionally affect most viewers in this grandly surreal cinematic postcard from late-1945 Germany, which frequently stylistically quotes many of von Trier's own idols, from Welles to Hitchcock and many more. Here, von Trier borrows heavily from the epic style of so many wartime and post-war romance/thrillers (Third Man, Casablanca, etc), adding his own signature twists and curveballs along the way, and it certainly pays off! Beautifully composed throughout, this one bears many viewings.
von Trier makes frequent and powerful use of front/rear-projection techniques, as well as selective and judicious use of colour, to tell the story with an added dreamlike quality. This is initiated at the film's memorable beginning, as Max von Sydow's hypnotic introductory narration invites the audience to sink into a celluloid dream.
The film, then, is worth 5 stars. This disc, however, is another matter. The film notes are interesting reading, and the print of the film seems almost pristine....The occasional English subtitles are optional, which is nice. However, while the feature is anamorphic widescreen, it has been zoomed from the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 to approx 1.78:1, presumably to neatly fit widescreen TVs. This makes a nonsense of many of von Trier's beautifully-composed widescreen images, with so much information missing from either side of the frame. Ironically, the included theatrical trailer is in anamorphic 2.35:1...why? To show us what we're missing in the main feature? The point is rammed home when the image flattens out to 2.35:1 at the end of the film to accommodate the end credits... There also appear to be one or two instances of monochrome being substituted for a splash of von Trier colour, e.g. in one shot in the Ravenstein scene.
So, a thoroughly engaging and affecting film which should reward all who see it is finally released to DVD for the first time, on a seriously flawed disc. ...the von Trier film-buff deserves better. If you must have this film now, in whatever aspect ratio, get it. ...