American pacifist (and naive) Leopold Kessler stumbles into a job as a sleeping-car conductor for the Zentropa railways in a Kafkaesque 1945 postwar Frankfurt, where he gets caught in a whirlpool of conspiracies and Nazi sympathisers. A runaway-train ride to an oddly futuristic past.
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The plot is a standard thriller affair wrapped in allegory, with characters, music and cinematography deeply recalling film noir, but it's through Lars von Trier's wonderful cinematic technique that Europa becomes something truly unique. The story offers no surprises, everything is foreshadowed and hinted at, but via von Trier's manipulation those scenes remarkably lose none of their impact.
File under: obnoxious genius. When there is so much obnoxious mediocrity in media and film, there is still room for the iconoclastic likes of LVT. While he would never be more than an acquaintance if I knew him (unresolved issues remain), goddammit he knows how to make a cinematic masterpiece or seven.
Beginning and ending in a manner strikingly similar to von Trier's first feature film, The Element of Crime -- a return to Europe, orchestrated by a hypnotic framing device, leads at length to the expression of a desperate, hopeless desire to escape from Europe (now synonymous with human venality) -- Europa is a less delirious feat of cinematic imagination than its predecessor, but it still draws (in) cold blood.
A von Trier film that sits heterogeneously within his oeuvre; akin much more to the virtuosic visuals and choreographed momentum of Welles. Like his work, there is dazzling technical brilliance through and through, diminished by only one, albeit fundamental flaw; where is the humanity?!
I cannot even begin to say how pleasantly surprised I was with this film. I feel I understand Von Trier on a much deeper level as an artist and really, I feel as though I should have started with this film before I watched ANTICHRIST and MELANCHOLIA. From the unique style, to the compelling plot, to the masterful camera movement, this is a film that truly embraces the art in cinema. Invigorating.
A beautiful nightmare full of striking imagery. This film is a unique experience to the core and is akin to The Third Man but on acid. However where it shines and succeeds where other "weird" films fail is that it remains grounded in some humanity and beauty, and surprisingly, despite all of the stylistic and narrative flourishes it isn't that pretentious. A masterpiece from a director I need to get to know.