Seen together, Lars Von Trier's Europa trilogy isn't exactly a profound experience, but it does underline the fact that even when he's boring he's never dull. On one level, none of them should work and none of them do, yet on another there's an audacity to them that engages far more than the subject matter: at times, the hypnotic execution is more than enough to compensate for the narrative confusion. Indeed, the whole trilogy seems to be driven by dreams and trances. Element of Crime is a tale emotionlessly told by a detective under hypnosis, his lack of passion in his voice-over often mirrored by the artificiality of the performances and the dreamlike imagery of a burned out, waterlogged Europe that feels like one of the fevered headaches that consume him as he becomes the monster he is supposedly tracing down. Epidemic even ends with an apocalyptic hypnotic trance as the parasitic pair of Von Trier and his insufferably smug screenwriter Niels Vorsel, who have been feeding on the pain and misery of others for inspiration for a script, even turning a painful memory from Udo Kier into a scene in their proposed film, ultimately reap what they sow. A mixture of the odd great image (Von Trier's doctor hanging from a rope with a Red Cross flag attached) and the mundane, it's an apt reminder of just how similar the act of artistic creation can be to a contagious disease that wounds those who come into its orbit.
Europa, aka Zentropa, opens with Max Von Sydow's unseen narrator hypnotising the audience to bring them into the film. The film itself is the closest to a mainstream narrative of the trilogy, but even here Von Trier is constantly undercutting his noirish plot - an idealistic American becomes a pawn in the amoral politics of post-War Germany still plagued by the Nazi `Werwolf' resistance movement - with both strikingly expressionistic imagery (not least an audacious use of backprojected images) and that trademark fevered confusion until mindless destruction seems the only release. Of the three, this is the most visually audacious, with a superb use of black and white scope imagery that helps compensate for the awful performances by Jean Marc-Barr and Barbara Sukowa (who once again proves that she may be able to speak English and German but she can't act in either of them). Still, the presence of Ernst-Hugo Jaregard (so wonderful in The Kingdom) ensures that not all the cast are carved from wood.
Full marks for the excellent presentation - not only is Europa/Zentropa finally presented in 2.35:1 (the previous issue from Tartan was cropped to 1.85:1) but there are a huge number of interviews and documentaries spread over the three discs and the bonus fourth disc telling you everything you could want to know and more (sadly at least one doc is not subtitled in English). As well as trailers (including additional trailers for all Von Trier's films to date) and audio commentaries, there are two interesting Easter Eggs - Von Trier's graduation film Images of Relief (on Epidemic) and the short film Nocturne on Element of Crime.