Written by Ari von Nordenskjöld on June 1, 2015.
Lars von Trier is a highly interesting contemporary character. Having only seen one of his films so far (which I shall shortly leave some comments on below), I am not much of an authority on the subject - but reading about him and watching some interviews, I find myself quite intrigued. Most notably he became the center of attention at the Cannes film festival for some innocuous jokes about being a nazi. The whole debacle was silly in many ways, and from an external angle quite amusing. The interesting thing is how starkly it illustrates the fact that in the postmodern society one can be a provocateur of almost unlimited proportions, unless one manages to stick one’s hand in one of the conveniently placed bear traps that litter the place. Trier was promptly banned from the festival, despite numerous attempts at apologizing for the apparently tasteless character of his humour - and while it would certainly have been more satisfying had he actually assumed a more rigid role as a true provocateur rather than being reduced to a snivelling apologizer after the first gust, not much else was to be expected. Trier is primarily an artist, and while provocation is part of his resume, it is not the central act.
Europa is a very beautiful film about - you guessed it - Europe. The plot is constructed like a Matryoshka doll, with ever deeper aspects of the story being interwoven with each other. Beneath a fictional story set in Germany directly after the war, the very real significance of the historical period and its consequences are vividly painted in a monochrome palette. The ever-present allegory is the train, on which everything takes place. The train is Europa, or Europe, and it follows closely the historical course of the continent. There is also a ‘you’, who is being hypnotized, and this you is an incarnation of Europe. The voice of Max von Sydow eerily describes the various stages that you assume in a melancholic buildup to the inevitable Untergang. The film is in many aspects quite surreal, and I think this is where its real strength lies - there are a multitude of ways to interpret each event that occurs, but the insanity that violently bubbles just beneath the surface of the caricatural character of the Prussians is palpable. This madness is best depicted in the main character, a pacifist American who has relocated himself to the collapsed post-war Germany for humanitarian reasons. Gradually throughout the movie, madness creeps up on him, and towards the end, as he is being manipulated and forced to choose sides, he embraces nihilism entirely.
If I were to go into more detail, I would spoil the film too much, I think. But it’s a film that I can truly recommend - Trier’s masterful allegorical work is illustrated by breathtaking scenes and an excellent soundtrack. It is a film that should leave anyone with their heart in the right place deeply touched.