Before 1995 came along and caught him in a deeply formalized act of pretension, Lars von Trier was already something of an ass
Reviewed by Mike Kanin, Fri., Dec. 12, 2008
EuropaCriterion 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 Zentropa – is 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.