Europa (retitled Zentropa for the American release) is an hallucinatory Danish film set in postwar Germany. Jean-Marc Barr plays a young German who aspires for a job as a street conductor. But this is no mere “Joe Job;” Barr’s adventures on the line are designed as a metaphor for the emergence of the “New Europe” following the war. Barbara Sukowa costars as the daughter of a railroad magnate–and possible Nazi sympathizer. Many of the special-effects sequences are computer enhanced, but even the “live” scenes have an unsettling, surreal quality to them (colors changing abruptly, backgrounds shifting without warning, etc.) This experimental film left some viewers confused, which may be why English-language prints of Zentropa are narrated by Max Von Sydow.
Edinburgh University Film Society, Spiros Gangas
Following The Element of Crime and Epidemic, this third feature by Von Trier may be best. A master of directorial skill, he makes with Europa and ambitious and entirely successful attempt to introduce a new vision to cinema as an art form.
Von Trier’s use of devices to render from early on the audience captive of the story, is epitomised by a truly mesmerizing narration carried out by Max Von Sydow in both the enigmatic beginning and the disturbingly claustrophobic ending of the film. To trace the influences on Von Trier’s aesthetics one must come up with the incompatible description of Europa as a film containing features of Tarkovsky, film noir and possibly Bergman. What matters though is that Von Trier proceeds with a virtuoso demonstration of his ability to construct amazing visuals: the black and white picture is often tinted with colour, reaching its apogee in a memorable suicide scene in a bath, where the monochrome background is suddenly flooded with blood.
An essentially Germanic film where one traces all those attributes associated with the German culture and the way they manifested themselves in this century’s events, Europa forms less of a prophetic allegory on issues of current politcal importance, but it illuminates rather, the most dark corners of the human psyche with an uncomfortable but never uncritical pessimism. There seems to be little doubt that it will be one of the cinematic masterpieces of the nineties.
“You will now listen to my voice . . . On the count of ten you will be in Europa . . .” So begins Max von Sydow’s opening narration to Lars von Trier’s hypnotic Europa (known in the U.S. as Zentropa), a fever dream in which American pacifist Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr) stumbles into a job as a sleeping-car conductor for the Zentropa railways in a Kafkaesque 1945 postwar Frankfurt. With its gorgeous black-and-white and color imagery and meticulously recreated (if then nightmarishly deconstructed) costumes and sets, Europa is one of the great Danish filmmaker’s weirdest and most wonderful works, a runaway-train ride to an oddly futuristic past
Lars von Trier’s first masterpiece, one of the most visually innovative and beautifully films ever made, the film only received three prices at Cannes, Best Artistic Contribution, Grand Prix du Technique and Grand Prix de Jury, but not the Palme d’Or, which he so desperately wanted, that he, when receiving his award, gave the finger to the jury.
As time has passed, one can view Leopold as von Trier and Germany as the European film. As Leopold, von Trier was a very confused and very angry person, convinced of his own infallibility and genius, attempting to recreate the great European film, but ending up, in his own eyes, being insignificant. That Bergman had called him a genius, meant little to von Trier. He demanded recognition.
In retrospect, “Europa” is a flawed film, where von Trier tries too hard. Attempting to reinvent cinema and create a new artform, the story is only a supporting player to the grandiose images. It would take Prozac and some soul searching, before he found the inspiration and the joy for film again with “Breaking the Waves”. But grandiose it is, and it will forever be a landmark film of von Trier.
AllMovieGuide, Brendon Hanley
Danish auteur Lars von Trier has rarely been one to let narrative get in the way of technical razzle-dazzle. The director’s Element of Crime was as convoluted as they come, but it featured some of the most menacing cinematography in recent memory. His first breakthrough in the American art-house circuit, Europa (re-titled Zentropa in the U.S. to avoid confusion with Europa, Europa), similarly unleashed a host of marvelous cinematic tricks. If the film is somewhat pretentious, he’s forgiven, since the optical trickery and the black-and-white cinematography are so sensational. It’s equal parts surrealism and normalcy, and the look is appropriate to the milieu of post-World War II Germany. Like Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville or a slowly-paced David Lynch film, Europa makes a definite impact. Von Trier was supposedly so upset at his film not winning the Palme D’Or at 1991’s Cannes Film Festival, he made vulgar gestures at the jury and called its president Roman Polanski a “midget.”
• Audio Commentary (as second audio track, with separate subtitles) – In Danish, with director Lars von Trier and producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen
• The Making of Europa – This documentary, produced by Same Films in 1991, covers the making of Europa from its conception as the third chapter in the “Europa Trilogy” through the painstaking storyboarding process to its full-scale production.
• Trier’s Element – Produced by Damnarks Radio in 1991, it features an interview with Lars von Trier as well as footage from both the set of Europa and its premiere and press conference at Cannes in 1991.
• Anecdotes from Europa – This short documentary about Europa’s production features interviews with film historian Peter Schepelern, actor Jean-Marc Barr, producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen, assistant director Tómas Gislason co-writer Niels Vørsel and prop master Peter Grant.
• From Dreyer to von Trier – Henning Bendtsen talks about his early experiences as a young director of photography for Carl Theodor Dreyer and about his final films, made with Lars Von Trier.
• The Emotional Music Script – Composer Joachim Holbek discusses the method he and Lars von Trier employed in writing Europa’s musical score.
• Lars von Trier – Anecdotes – This short documentary about various collaborators’ experiences working with Lars Von Trier features interviews with costume designer Manon Rasmussen, film school teacher Mogens Rukov, editor-director Tómas Gislason, producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen, art director Peter Grant, actor Michael Simpson, production manager Per Arman and actor Ole Ernst.
• A conversation with Lars von Trier – In this 2005 interview, Danish journalist Bo Green Jensen talks to Lars von Trier about the “Europa Trilogy”.
• Europa: The Faecal Location – Footage filmed by Tómas Gislason on location in a Polish hotel during the shooting of Europa in 1990.
• Theatrical Trailer