Film of the Week: Europa Europa

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Agnieszka Holland’s Europa Europa (1990) centers on Solomon “Solek” Perei (Marco Hofschneider), a German Jewish boy who survives the holocaust by pretending to be the enemy—first a Communist at the Bolshevik orphanage he takes flight to, and later, a Hitler Youth in the Nazi army. Solek survives through his ingenuity, carefulness (as a solder, he ensures to urinate alone due to being circumcised), but most of all, his acting ability.

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During what turns out to be a brief stay in Lodz, Poland, Solek begins to help out the cashier at the local cinema. She subsequently allows him to watch films for free, and he falls in love with the art. Solek displays a talent for mimicry, watching people the same way one watches actors in a film. Being declared a hero, he finds himself transferred from the battlefield to an elite Hitler Youth school. Upon his arrival and subsequent introduction, he witnesses the terrifying uniformity of domestic life under the Nazi regime, all the while maintaining the facade continuously bearing down on him. Holland depicts the combination of Solek’s inner turmoil and outer conformity with a musical fervor and rhythm.

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Solek stands in the middle of a courtyard, surrounded by his classmates who dance and sing around him: “Sharpen the long knives on the pavement stone! Sink the knives into Jewish flesh and bone.” Solek looks around confused and frightful, the swarm of bodies spinning around him. Holland zooms the camera ever so slowly, past the blurring movement of the Nazi students before finally arriving on Solek’s face. She lays Solek bare: his innocence and perhaps worst of all, his guilt in being complicit.

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