Bravura film technique doesn’t hide an offputting, empty exercise in Europa, Lars Von Trier’s rumination on war guilt in the form of a low-voltage thriller. Distracting visuals only occasionally support the film’s themes while mostly constituting an end in themselves.
In only his third feature, director works on a vast canvas with all manner of special effects to tell the Kafkaesque story of a young American, Leopold (Jean-Marc Barr), working as an apprentice railroad conductor in occupied Germany, 1945. His romance with cold, beautiful Katharina (Barbara Sukowa), daughter of the trainline owner, plays second fiddle to Leopold’s surrealistic wanderings through a fantasy landscape.
Contrived plot involves Leopold unwittingly with a gang of ‘werewolves’, namely partisan terrorists who chafe under Allied rule. Film’s climax contains many elements of suspense but is drawn out too long and played off against the black humor of Leopold failing a conductor test for visiting inspectors.
Bulk of widescreen footage is in black & white, with the director using front projection for shifting back and forth to muted color. Acting is on the lugubrious side. Joakin Holbek’s symphonic score is strong to the point of tongue-in-cheek and includes a credited riff from Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo soundtrack.