Being the third and final film in Lars von Trier’s Europa trilogy, Europa occupies quite a pivotal place in the Danish director’s career. At the time, it was his most thematically and stylistically ambitious achievement, escalating his ongoing study of European society to impressive new heights. At the Cannes Film Festival, it received no fewer than three awards, including one for “Special Artistic Contribution” – yet this didn’t keep von Trier from playing the sore loser when he didn’t get the Palme d’Or by calling Jury president Roman Polanski a midget. As if in response to this “loss,” von Trier then embarked on a new stage in his work, adopting the rougher, more emotionally lacerating approach seen in films like Breaking the Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000) and Dogville (2003) that he is perhaps best known for. This drastic shift makes Europa all the more fascinating as an exhilaratingly bold flirtation with large-scale filmmaking and outright spectacle.
Jean-Marc Barr stars as Leopold Kessler, a naïve American who goes to Germany shortly after the end of World War II to work as a sleeping car conductor. Accompanied by his German uncle (Ernst-Hugo Järegård), he begins to socialize with the Hartmann family who run the Zentropa railway line. He becomes romantically involved with Katharina (Barbara Sukowa), daughter of the company’s owner, Max Hartmann (Jørgen Reenberg), while facing pressure from both an American colonel (Eddie Constantine) and the branch of Nazi supporters known as the Werewolves to aid their respective sides. Eventually, the non-committal Kessler is pushed to finally decide where his loyalties truly lie.
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