Europa grabs your attention straight away, with it’s held take of the railway line as Max von Sydow’s voice provides narration that is deliberately hypnotic. The basic plot of the film is this: an America, Leopold Kessler travels to Germany after the second world war, intending to help, in his own way, with the reconstruction effort and gets employed by the Zentropa rail company.However, he soon finds himself entangled and torn between the Americans and the post war German insurgent group, the Werewolves.
Shot in mostly a beautiful high contrast black and white, it is a visually striking film that carries a somewhat noir aesthetic, mixed in with the occasional colour sequence that is transitioned into seamlessly, Europa carries a strong visual identity of it’s own. Another part of this look is it’s very frequent use of rear screen projection that when combined with the film’s score serve to recreate the visuals, the sounds and the feelings of films from the golden age of hollywood.
Part romance and part political thriller, Europa provides a slightly different look at post war Germany, a part of the chaos of the time that is usually overshadowed by the Checkpoint Charlie type situations. The multilingual performances of almost all of the cast is solid and von Trier’s camerawork is slow and clear and edits are all well paced and never appear like he’s trying to show off. von Sydow continues to provide narration well spread throughout the film, all the way to the tragic end.
von Trier invests all the principal characters of the film with their own personalities and humanity and built well off of what is typically very familiar archetypes, with dialogue occassionally being metaphoric and literary in nature, with great emotional pay off. Even minor characters have their own subplots that increase the richness of the film. The violence in the film is impactful within the film’s aesthetic and the sets and effects are detailed, giving an excellent sense of scale and place and while the shots aren’t sweeping in nature, we are shown enough to have a good sense of the situation, with bombed out buildings, damaged interiors and a roofless Cathedral.
Europa is also, at least from the von Trier films I have seen up to this point, is probably among the more accessible, whilst remaining generally excellent. With it’s own unique, yet familiar identity, Europa provides a thriller of great emotional depth and political complexity, wrapped up in an engaging and easy to follow thriller/romance plot making it essential viewing.