European Cinema: for the Europhile and Cinephile

Brexit this, Brexit that, deadlines been and gone, deals on and off the table – who isn’t sick of it? At the moment, everything Europe related is tainted by Brexit but here are some of the great films Europe has given us.

Before the Rain (1994)

Before the Rain jumps between Macedonia and London telling a powerful story of conflict in modern Europe. Lives in Macedonia and London are shown to be tangled together in the three parts of the film. Influenced by the wars after the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 90s, many questions are raised about ethnic conflict and how every nation, even Britain, suffers from nationalist conflict.

Although it is a story that focuses on the post-Yugoslavia conflicts, its causes and effects, you don’t need any prior knowledge of the era. In fact, even if you do, there's a lot to be learnt by its depiction on screen. 

The first part starts in rural Macedonia where young Zamira runs away after being accused of murder. She finds Kiril, a young monk, who escapes with her. In the second part we are taken to London to war photographers, Anne and Aleksander. Anne has to choose between her husband or the feelings she has developed for Aleksander. And, in the final section, Aleksander returns home to Macedonia where he sees the consequences of war on his hometown. Here, Aleksander, Zamira and Kiril’s stories come together in tragedy.

The cyclical use of time is quite Nolan-esque, but less confusing. The various story strands and the jumping between locations and time frames are handled masterfully to create a touching and thought-provoking watch.

Look Who’s Back (2015)

Imagine if Hitler didn’t die in his bunker in 1945 but was instead somehow transported into 21st century Berlin – that’s it, that’s Look Who’s Back. It initially seems to be a comedy, seeing Hitler’s confusion to modern technology and music but in drawing parallels between societies, it almost turns into a semi-psychological, semi-dystopian horror.

Based on the book by Timur Vermes, the film follows filmmaker Fabian who stumbles across what he, and everyone else, assumes is a fake Hitler comedy act. Together, Fabian and Hitler travel around Germany meeting the public who are either disgusted by the ‘comedy act’ or actively, and openly, discuss their politics with the ‘fake’ Hitler. As he grows in popularity, he is given a space on a television programme where he becomes a national star. But soon Fabian starts to question how ‘fake’ this Hitler really is, to dire consequences.

A unique premise and a great mix of satire and drama, Look Who’s Back is an ingenious, incomparable film.

Three Colours: Blue (1993), White (1994) and Red (1994)

This trilogy of films by Krzysztof Kieslowski are named after the colours of the French flag and explore the themes of the French Republic: liberty, equality and fraternity. All three are available on Amazon Prime.

Blue follows Julie after she survives a car crash that kills her husband - a famous composer - and their daughter. She clears out their home, destroys her husband’s work [although it is suggested she wrote, or helped to write them] and leaves everything behind for Paris. But, not everything can be left in the past.

White tells the story of Karol who is seeking revenge after his divorce in an attempt to restore the equality he was denied when his wife stripped him of everything at their divorce hearing. After losing everything, Karol meets a fellow Pole on the Paris Metro, Mikolaj, who helps him return to Poland in a very unconventional manner. Back in Poland, Karol becomes a successful businessman and cooks up his scheme of revenge, taking him back to Paris.

Red centres around student and part-time model, Valentine, with glimpses of her neighbour’s life brushing past her own. One day she runs over a dog and tries to find its owner, Kern. Despite his initial coldness, the two become friends. Kern tells Valentine of his life as a judge and his doomed love life, tales that mirror the scenes in Valentine’s neighbour’s life. Could all three of them find happiness?

Subtle and beautifully executed, connections between the three films weave the stories together without detracting from each individual tale. The colour themes for each film are tactfully approached. Some uses of colour are obvious with others less noticeable, but they are never tacky or over the top. All films end on a poignant note, Red in particular where all the main characters of all three films converge in the final moments.