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I've been an admirer of Lars Von Trier since he tore up the rule book and thumbed his nose at mainstream sensibilities in the late 1990s to mid 2000s with brave, infuriating and brilliantly unique films like "Breaking the Waves", "The Idiots", "Dancer in the Dark" and "Dogville", not to mention his extraordinary, surreal horror mini-series "The Kingdom" for Danish TV. His third feature film is the last part of the thematically linked "Europe" trilogy, and was the last Von Trier feature I had yet to see; it is without doubt his first masterpiece and belongs in the top ranks of his output.
It follows Leonard a young American pacifist drawn to Germany in the immediate aftermath of WWII hoping to do some good in the newly US-controlled country. He joins his uncle working as a sleeping car conductor on the railway line of the Zentropa Rail Network and falls in love with the daughter of his new employer, but her intentions are not at all clear as Leonard is drawn into conspiracy by hidden remnants of the Nazi regime, as they attempt to undermine the new government through acts of sabotage, murder and terrorism.
Technically this film is a wonder, combining the familiar monochrome and smoky imagery of 1940s film noir with beautiful, often experimental, camera-work evoking a dark dream world where time shifts and truth and reality are unstable concepts. There are occasional shots of colour mixed in with the B&W cinematography, and there is frequent use of back projection which the actors interact with. Like the previous two parts of the trilogy this is a film that revels in its own awareness, but also works as a homage and an updating of the romantic wartime spy thriller. The performances are also strong: Jean Marc-Barr is a convincing, sympathetic lead, open hearted but out of his depth; Barbara Sukowa perfectly cast as the beautiful and dangerous femme fatale, and there's a typically unsettling cameo from ever-reliable Von Trier alumnus Udo Kier. Special mention too to Max Von Sydow who sets up the world of the film beautifully with a measured, omniscient narration literally hypnotising the audience - "On the count of ten, you will be in Europa. I say: Ten." This opening monologue of falling deeper and floating takes on a sinister cast in light of what happens at the end of the film as, like Leonard, we are unable to wake and escape the world of the film. Altogether a work of genius.
I've never seen anything like this. A phenomenal achievement, 10/10.
"The film was released as Zentropa in North America in order to avoid confusion with the film Europa Europa (1990)."
Seriously, what is wrong with North America?
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Currently in 3 official lists, but has been in 6