Lars Von Trier’s ‘Europa’: Slow Motion Train Wreck (Literally)

100226-europa1991I recently finished watching Lars Von Trier’s Europa.  I picked it up not knowing anything about the film other than that Von Trier is a critically acclaimed director.  I had seen ‘Dancer In The Dark’ several years ago but evidently the shock of that movie had worn off enough that I had forgotten how disturbing it was.  So the thought of another Von Trier film seemed to be a good idea.  Besides, anyone that Bjork thinks is worth her time should be worth my time, art superstar Matthew Barney being a prime case in point.

Well… as much as I love Bjork (and Matthew Barney)… I might have to rethink that rule.  Europa, a story about an American that takes a job as a train conductor in Post World War II Germany, is… shall we say ‘odd’.  The film is slow, pedestrian in dialogue and simple in plot.  Actually kind of ridiculous in plot.  A blackmail bomb plot juxtaposed with a promotion exam?  I get it – the notion of extremes of national identity, but it comes off as plodding and clumsy. 

Von Trier’s use of splitting foreground and background, and black and white and color, seems strained at best and arbitrary at worst.  I am left wondering why this story had to be told.  And why did it have to be told in this way?  I am sure there are lessons and insights to be mined in an exploration of a nation trying to find its footing again after a devastating war.  But I am not sure that ‘Europa’ succeeds in finding anything useful to say or saying it in a compelling way.