Tuesday, July 14, 2009
By Eric Jessen 7/13/09
Behind every window shade, always kept pulled down, in Europa is barbed wire, starving children, endless and endless destruction. Europa is a mystical world of only flickering lights, glowing snow and the moon and the stars to brighten everlasting darkness. The people sleep all day and work all night. Everyone cheats and lies and has killed just to survive. It's Germany in 1945 and it's a frightening place for an idealistic American.
If you watch Europa, you will be that innocent American. A deep and melancholy voice (that sounds like Darth Vader without the wheezing, actually Max von Sydow) will count from 1 to 10. You see a glimmer of light traveling up a railroad track - the same tracks you might have seen in Shoah(1985) or Alain Resnais' Night and Fog (1955). And then you hear the voice. “You will now listen to my voice. My voice will help you and guide you still deeper into Europa. I shall now count from 1 to 10......1......2......3......” The voice lulls you to sleep. It attempts to put you in a hypnotic state, similar to the state you were in watching any one of Tarkovsky's movies (Stalker, Nostalgia, Solaris, The Mirror). It's a state where the pace of time is slower. “......On 6, I want you to go deeper. I say 6 and the whole of your relaxed body is slowly beginning to sink......7......You go deeper and deeper and deeper......8......On every breath you take you go deeper......9......You are floating......On the metal count of 10 you will be in Europa......Be there at 10...... I say 10.”
If you haven't already guessed, this movie is the work of none other than Lars Von Trier. We discussed his “movie from hell” Dogville (2003). We also discussed his “thought provoking” Breaking the Waves (1996). No other director today is more bold or more talented or more truly disturbed and insane as to attempt to delve into his character's and audience's souls. He's trying to do as Bergman once did. He puts his heart into his work and the results can be brilliant as in Breaking the Waves or disastrous as in Dogville. I wish I could give you a more definitive opinion of Europa, but my reaction to the result of Lars Von Trier's passion and madness is mixed. He had me in a trance when Sydow was counting to 10. He had me in a trance for most of the movie. The werewolves, the German transportation head slowly, one small cut with his razor at a time, killing himself, the occasional small glimpse of color, it all worked. I loved it when one suffering German said to us, the naïve American, “You're so good and understanding. I find that a little provoking.” But the relationship between the American (Jean-Marc Barr) and the German(Barbara Sukowa), the supposed love, the one glimmer of humanity in Europa: fake, contrived, a weak effort with little passion and finally (Lars undoubtedly smirking at the sad end) the love, the glimmer dashed by nothing else but lies. And the end, although poetic and wonderful, predictably dire. The American, dead. Our carcass drifting in a river in Europa. The voice returned once again, “You are in a train in Germany. Now the train is sinking. You will drown. On the count of 10 you will be dead......1......2......3......4......5......6......7......8......9......10..... You want to wake up, to free yourself from the image of Europa. But it is not possible.” This is the End. It is an end scene of agonizing torture. It is brilliant, masterful and unbearable. That is so Lars Von Trier.
He's done it again. He has me all riled up. I'm reeling and filled with emotions. No matter what my reaction, if I love it or hate it, a Lars Von Trier movie if bizarre, mystical, hypnotic, infuriating, absurd, extraordinary, is always worth seeing.