Wednesday, 16 July 2014
A German born Jewish family finds itself in a 'catch 22' situation in Lodz during the Bolshevik-Nazi carve up of Poland, which triggers World War II. The 14-year old Salomon and his brother Isaak flee towards east, and are separated. Salomon finds himself in an orphanage in Grodno, where he is indoctrinated by the Bolsheviks. Just then, the Third Reich invades the Soviet Union, and Salomon manages to save himself by pretending to be Josef Peters, a Volksdeutscher, an ethnic German. It works, and he is employed by the German army as an translator. Since he is a minor, he is sent to Berlin to attend school, where he is indoctrinated by the Nazis. He falls in love with a girl, Leni, but is afraid to have sex with her. When the Soviet army takes over Berlin, Salomon finds his brother again and they move to Palestine.
Agnieszka Holland's "Europa Europa" quickly became a cult film upon its release and caused quite a stir, since the plot - based on a true story by Salomon Perel - was probably a new take on the World War II concept back then and deserves to be made into a film: the storyline about a German born Jewish refugee who flees to the Soviet Union and then later pretends to be a German when the German army invades, only to return to Germany, is a great concept, but its execution is sometimes slightly spasmodic and stiff. A war often seems to be very filmable event, but through the hero Salomon, "Europa Europa" also slowly builds a universal theme of lost identity and pliability since the protagonist has to be an even bigger chameleon than Allen in "Zelig" in order to survive (he is even afraid to have sex with a German girl from fear that she will see he is circumcised), while his destiny mirrors some dark messages about the "crazy years" of the 20th century Europe, such as that Salomon can easily switch from the Bolshevik to the Nazi side since these Totalitarianisms are so difficult to distinguish. Unfortunately, while these messages are noble, the film is not nearly as energetic as it could have been, when compared to the very similar "Seven Beauties": the war and action sequences seem too modest, probably due to a limited budget, whereas the quiet dramatic moments are better, yet also seem slightly staged, underdeveloped or rushed at times (the very fake looking sex scene in the train, for instance, or the 'shriek music'). However, the movie has its fair share of inspiration, since there are great dialogues ("Is it difficult to be an actor?" - "Easier than to be yourself.") and a deliciously ironic little dream sequence where Stalin and Hitler are dancing together in each others' arms.