Before 1995 came along and caught him in a deeply formalized act of pretension, Lars von Trier was already something of an ass

DVD Watch


Criterion Collection, $39.95

Before 1995 came along and caught him in a deeply formalized act of pretension, Dogme co-founder Lars von Trier was already something of an ass. At least that's the impression one gets after watching clips of a press conference that accompanied the premiere of his Europa at Cannes in 1991. There, served the standard whys and what-fors by the gathered media, von Trier deftly batted away any question that might lead to a better understanding of the film that he was there to promote. His standard method of response? A near-Rovian act of simplification that had him declaring his equivalent of, "Gawrsh, I don't know; I just set up that camera and rolled, buddy."

This, of course, is about as untrue as it is understandable: As a very purple Howard Hampton notes in the essay that he's penned for this new Criterion release, "Europa's catchall web of illusions, artistic cannibalism, and widespread déjà vu can induce a certain motion sickness." (I'd have added for viewers, critics, and Cannes reporters alike, but, hey, I didn't write something called Born in Flames: Termite Dreams, Dialectical Fairy Tales, and Pop Apocalypses.)

To be fair, Europa – which was previously released in the U.S. as Zentropais something of a collage. But even as central figure Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr) winds his way through a noir Germany – sometimes on board a Hitchcockian train, sometimes alongside Alphaville star Eddie Constantine, and frequently in front of obviously anachronistic back-projection – the film manages not to be mere homage. Instead, von Trier and co-scripter Niels Vørsel give the period piece (set, supposedly, in the immediate aftermath of World War II) a flavor of political commentary, which, still-fresh in even post-postcommunist Europe, gets their film over that particular hump.

The bonus? While they're at it, von Trier and Vørsel also manage to make the thing almost comprehensible – you know, with the ol' guy-with-German-roots-returns-to-the-vaterland-and-falls-for-a-chilly-maybe-ex-Nazi bit – in a way that von Trier himself seemed to think was singular (at least relative to his body of work at the time).

Still, all of the extra goodies included on the Criterion release remain near-necessities. Indeed, the set features multiple documentaries (both long and short) and stand-alone interviews that do much to help the viewer unravel von Trier's still-heady postapocalypse – whether the director, whose very entertaining Cannes presser is included in one of those add-on docs, would have wanted it that way or not.

Also Out Now ...

Casablanca (Ultimate Collector's Edition) (Warner Home Video, $64.98): The Blu-ray edition of this Nazi noir comes complete with commentary by Roger Ebert and, uh, luggage tags.

Sin City (101 Distribution, $39.49): Robert Rodriguez's take on Frank Miller's stylized comic comes out on Blu-ray, just in time for Miller's new feature, The Spirit.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Europa
Prime Time Suspect
The second book starring Barcelona Police Inspector Petra Delicado

Jay Trachtenberg, Aug. 31, 2007

The Fugitive
An autobiography of injustice leads to a career in crime writing

Jay Trachtenberg, June 8, 2007

More Screens Reviews
What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
Josh Frank brings the legendary unproduced movie to printed life

Wayne Alan Brenner, March 22, 2019

What If <i>The Texas Chain Saw Massacre</i> Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
What If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
Putting the Austin-made seminal slasher back into context

Marc Savlov, March 22, 2019

More by Mike Kanin
Council-Staff Tension Spills Over in Budget Talks
Council-Staff Tension Spills Over in Budget Talks
Spelman and Martinez drill staffers over cost projections and turnover

Aug. 30, 2013

Gómez Pushes Road Plan Near Racetrack
Gómez Pushes Road Plan Near Racetrack
Commissioner says she's concerned about access and safety issues in her precinct

Aug. 30, 2013


Europa, Lars von Trier

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle