EUROPA EUROPA (director/writer: Agnieszka Holland; screenwriter: based on the autobiography of Solomon Perel; cinematographer: Jacek Petrycki; editors: Ewa Smal/Isabelle Lorente; music: Zbigniew Preisner; cast: Marco Hofschneider (Solomon Perel ), Rene Hofschneider (Isaak), Piotr Kozlowski (David), Klaus Abramowsky (Solomon’s Father), Michele Gleizer (Solomon’s Mother), Julie Delpy (Leni), André Wilms (Soldier Robert Kellerman), Ashley Wanninger (Gerd); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Allan Starsky; Orion Classics; 1990-France/Germany-in German and Russian with English subtitles)
“An important historical film set between 1938 and 1945.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An important historical film set between 1938 and 1945, that gives a different slant on the Holocaust. It’s masterfully directed by the humanistic Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (“To Kill A Priest”/”The Secret Garden”/”Total Eclipse”) with no judgment passed, but with an eye on studying the role-playing protagonist–a Jew pretending to be a Nazi, and examining from afar, in an ironical way, the moral quandary the victim of the Holocaust faced as a mere teenager who was only trying to survive.
It tells the incredible and unforgettable true story of Holocaust survivor Salomon “Solly” Perel (Rene Hofschneider), based on his autobiography. He’s a young Polish Jew living with his shoemaker father and housewife mother in Germany, who when thirteen and taking a bath, a brick is thrown through his apartment window by Nazi thugs. He jumps out the window naked and after hiding in a barrel for a long time, has a waitress friend bring him clothes. The only thing she can find is a black leather coat with a Nazi insignia on the sleeve, which he gladly dons. Solly returns to his parents’ home and his dad insists they flee Germany to his home in Poland, but Solly and his brother Isaak (Rene Hofschneider) get separated and Solly is taken by Russian soldiers to an orphanage in Grodno. There he’s willingly brainwashed to become a Communist and becomes a model student, a Komsomol, who renounces his Jewish identity and pledges his allegiance to Stalin.
When the Nazis attack the orphanage, Solly’s caught. Solly, taking the name Joseph, tells the Nazis he’s a pure German stuck in Russia, and out of necessity they make him their Russian translator. He’s well-liked by the Nazis and becomes a hero when helping them win a battle against the Russians.
Solly is now a decorated soldier, sent to an elite Hitler Youth academy. Fooling everyone, he romances the beautiful anti-Semitic Leni (Julie Delpy). But the Jew’s afraid that his circumcision will give him away, which curtails his sex life.
The well-acted, sincere, and unsentimental pic is filled with remarkable set pieces that put the viewer in the poser’s shoes. This makes the harrowing film both unique and easy to relate to, as we follow the lucky to survive Holy Fool like hero and perhaps wonder what we would have done if we were in his shoes. The most numbing set piece has Solly as a member of the Hitler Youth pass with the other Nazi soldiers by trolley through the Lodz ghetto and he sees through the window his forlorn mother in the street, and he feels helpless that he cannot help.
REVIEWED ON 3/17/2011 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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