Salomon Perels true story of surviving Hitlers Germany by passing himself off as an Aryan has been made into a beautifully scaled mini-epic of irony. If you didnt know otherwise, youd swear Europa Europa was written with a sly wink by the foxy Isaac Bashevis Singer—it has his kind of sex-tinged, wicked, cheeky perversity. Heres a movie in which the Nazis cant keep their lusty hands off a Jew. At the center is so unethnically handsome a fella—played by Marco Hofschneider—that not only doesnt he look Jewish, he doesnt look German or Polish either. With lustrous dark hair, cherubic face, hes a petulant, sexy schlemiel without any outward identity; its his misfitted gentility that attracts and confounds his captors. But theres one identifiable feature and its the most dangerously definitive of all—his circumcised penis. Salomon learns early that when the Nazis discover youre cut, youre dead. The panic of terror and discomfort in hiding the evidence is a funny horror show that affects half the audience—men physically shift in their seats. (The disguise is somewhat like Singers Yentl The Yeshiva Boy—but without crotch anxiety.) Hofschneider isnt much of an actor—he cant convey the variables of emotions required of him, and though hes speaking German and Russian, his line readings lack conviction, never matching the blissful innocence. In his defense, had he caught all the right actorish nuances, he wouldnt have been the unwitting survivor-hero we find so appealing. When hes running away naked, using his hands to cover his Jewish identity, or surrendering to the Russians, or cavorting in front of a mirror, or is bayonetting a dummy with a Jewish star over its heart, hes the anxious, terrified young boy with a severe case of the shpilkes he needs to be. Agnieszka Holland is one of Polands few women filmmakers. Not knowing this, youd assume the movie was made by an experienced male director. This is high compliment—Europa Europa is another example of 1991s bumper crop of confidently directed movies. What kind of diets were Holland, Oliver JFK Stone, John Boyz in the Hood Singleton and Ridley Thelma & Louise Scott on? Holland doesnt wimp out about Germanys anti-Semitism—her scenes fulminate with hate and racism. At the same time were surprised at how effectively unrehashable they are; she captures the pervasiveness of the final solution without ever going to the crematoria. She even gets into the dumb-dumb humor of the anti-Semitic dogma about Jewish physicality without it being too offensive. She loads her movie with some goodies: three fantasy dreams (two featuring Hitler), a marvellous bit with the Nazis about to be overun by the advancing Russians, turning their fire on the movies hero, and a symbolic joint urination of two brothers. Holland also covers the basics: just when you wonder how Salomon will escape detection of his circumcision, out comes the solution. There is one bad touch—the recurring, faked Nino Rota music borrowed from The Godfather. Unlike The Nasty Girl, which is like a Woody Allen home movie (its ending appeals to those who love his infatuation with psychosis), Europa Europa was denied an Oscar nomination and probable win for Best Foreign Picture because Germany refused to enter it. You know why—the country doesnt wish to be reminded of its fuddy-duddy anthropological propaganda, especially since its resurging again among its youth. Its been until very recently unofficial German policy to avoid its horrific history in order not to repeat it. Thats what makes Europa Europa a double whammy: you cant uncut what is so distinctly a part of your heritage, and to try to is sure to spread an insidious infection that is worse than the humiliating public cure.


Text COPYRIGHT © 2000 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.