1990s, 3/4, Review

Europa Europa

Image result for europa europa film poster

Operating under the assumption that everything in this film really happened, finishing your movie with two events that are both effectively deus ex machinas is dramatically unsatisfying.

Here is a movie dripping in irony. A young German Jew flees to Poland in the late 30s with his family. After Germany and Russia attack, he’s separated from his family and taken in at a Soviet orphanage. There, the boy who grew up religious is the one to attack religion the most vociferously. When Hitler breaks his pact with Stalin, the boy is forced to flee the orphanage and gets taken in by a regiment of German soldiers. His features are more German than Jewish, and no one questions his ethnicity. The virulently anti-Semitic captain is so taken with the young man that he offers to adopt him. The young German Jew in hiding is then sent to an elite Hitler Youth school where he’s held up as an ethnic ideal by his teacher in front of his class.

A movie so steeped in irony ends up being actually quite funny. In some ways, it reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun. It’s a story of a young boy navigating his way through World War II in unusual ways, oftentimes enjoying himself. Europa Europa, though, has that ironic twist that provides most of the levity through the affair, and the heart of the film at the same time.

For the first hundred minutes or so, the only real problem is that the irony gets laid on a little too thickly. The last major scene where the irony of Solomon’s situation is the best of them, which creates an odd experience. We’ve seen the movie make fun of Nazis four or five times about how dumb they are for holding up a Jew as an Aryan ideal, and then we have the really good scene of the teacher measuring Solomon’s face for the class and coming away impressed with his level of Aryanism. If it weren’t the last in a series, I think it would have more effect.

In the latter half of the film, while Solomon is in the school, he falls in love with a young girl who’s as taken in with Nazism as anyone else. She says that she would cut a Jew’s throat if she ever met one. Afraid of what would happen if they actually made love and she saw that he was circumcised, he tries to balance their relationship with modesty, but she rejects that. The movie’s single best scene comes after the girl has gotten pregnant by another boy, and Solomon visits her mother. She has no idea what has happened to her daughter. She doesn’t recognize her anymore. They both love her and are in pain for different reasons. Solomon began the movie as a German Jew, and for years he had to hide the Jewish aspect. There, in tears in front of the girl’s mother, she asks him if he’s German.

He replies in the negative. He’s not a German. He’s a Jew. Germany had been telling him for years that he could not be both German and Jew, and he wanted to be both. In some ways, he wanted to be German more than Jewish. After his rejection, Solomon realizes that he can’t be anything other than a Jew. It’s a sad scene because he has to reject a part of him that has been a part of him for his whole life.

Then we get to the final few moments of the film, and it falls apart dramatically. The war is coming to an end, and Germany’s beginning to lose. There are efforts to get these boys and girls ready for the front lines, and the authorities must ensure the proper paperwork is in order beforehand. A local police officer calls Solomon in and asks for his Aryan Papers, which Solomon insists are in another city. Well, they’ll just have to get them. Since they don’t actually exist, Solomon knows that he’s days from being found out. And then bombs fall on the office with the police officer after Solomon walks out. The scene itself plays in a humorous fashion which helps blunt the fact that we were just introduced to a dramatic obstacle only to have it blown away by an unrelated dramatic element seconds later. And then the Russians show up. Solomon is considered a spy since he claims to be a Jew, looks German, and hasn’t suffered in a concentration camp. A Russian soldier hands a gun to a concentration camp survivor and tells him to shoot Solomon, but just as the bullet is to leave the gun, we hear a voice. It is Solomon’s brother. So, again, for the second time in about five minutes, we have a dramatic obstacle introduced and then resolved by an unrelated dramatic element. It becomes silly at that point.

Still, the movie as a whole is very much worth it. I really liked it, and the defense that “It actually happened that way” (assuming it did), doesn’t alleviate the fact that the ending ends up silly.

Netflix Rating: 4/5

Quality Rating: 3/4

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