1992, NR, 114 min. Directed by Lars Von Trier. Narrated by Max Von Sydow. Starring Jean-Marc Barr, Barbara Sukowa, Udo Kier, Eddie Constantine.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 18, 1992
Narrated by Max Von Sydow, Zentropa tells the story of Leopold Kessler (Barr), an idealistic young German-American who travels to Berlin in the aftermath of WWII to help rebuild the city in any way he can. Securing a job as an apprentice sleeping car conductor aboard the prestigious Zentropa railway line, he rapidly finds himself drawn to Katharina Hartmann (Sukowa), a beautiful, enigmatic young woman whose family owns Zentropa, and who may or may not be a “werewolf,” that is, a pro-Nazi partisan. Kessler is also drawn to Colonel Harris (Constantine), an American liaison officer who would like to use the young trainee (pun semi-intended) to flush out werewolves in hiding. All of this is set against a startlingly realistic backdrop of postwar Berlin -- the skies are forever overcast here and you can almost taste the ash on your tongue. Trier combines all of this into a gripping, surreal panoply of various film techniques that at once manage to convey the gravity of the eroding situation in a disoriented country and comment on the human condition, as well as manipulate the audience almost subconsciously. It's a hypnotic film to watch; Trier uses back projection, superimposes different shots one atop another, and jumps from color to black-and-white (and occasionally both simultaneously) to create selective perceptions in the viewer. It's an astounding film, when you sit back and think about just how little control you had over what you thought you were watching, which may explain why Zentropa took both the Jury Prize and the Prix du Technique at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. Such directorial machinations may not sit well with everyone, and occasionally they are so bold as to be distracting from the narrative drive of the story, but that may be intentional. In the end, Zentropa is above all unique in its radical take on the inherent confusion of postwar Europe, offering the viewer a glimpse like none he has had before.