Director Agnieszka Holland
Starring Marco Hofschneider, Julie Delpy
Scott’s Review #1,373
Reviewed June 29, 2023
Europa Europa (1990) is a unique film that showcases a young Jewish man’s plight and experiences in a dangerous time in world history.
There have been many films made that examine German Naziism in some way, shape, or form but the film is German which only authenticates the story.
The secret sauce of this film is the remarkable storytelling by Agnieszka Holland who also directed.
The fact that it is based on real-life events only adds emotion and heartbreak and just a little hope. It is based on the 1989 autobiography of Solomon Perel, a German-Jewish boy who escaped the Holocaust by masquerading as a Nazi and joining the Hitler Youth.
Perel himself appears briefly as “himself” in the film’s finale.
Speaking of German war films, Europa Europa doesn’t eclipse the power of the 1930 masterpiece All Quiet Along the Western Front or the 2022 remake for that matter. It’s not as raw but it does personalize the experience by focusing on one character and his perspectives.
The film adds a tinge of humor, homosexuality, and full nudity in a way that lightens the mood and almost makes it fun instead of pure doom and gloom.
But the concentration camp horror is never taken for granted.
Handsome Jewish teenager Salek (Marco Hofschneider) is separated from his family when they flee their home in Germany for Poland. Salek ends up in a Russian orphanage for two years, but when Nazi troops reach Russia he convinces them he is a German Aryan, and becomes an invaluable interpreter and then an unwitting war hero.
While he can hide his Jewish blood on the surface he is uncircumcised which makes him vulnerable and at risk of being found out at any moment.
His deception becomes increasingly difficult to maintain after he joins the Hitler Youth and finds love with beautiful Leni (Julie Delpy), a staunch anti-Semite.
Hofschneider easily carries the film. With dashing good looks and a trusting smile the audience can see how he might be able to fool the German regime. As shown during a powerful scene where the Hitler Youth is taught how to spot a Jew, scrawny, rat-like, and mistrustful looking are the characteristics they are told to be wary of.
Salek is the opposite.
The actor appears completely naked in several scenes including full-frontal. This is not done frivolously because his penis is central to the plot and his potential discovery.
Delpy plays the gorgeous yet tragic character of Leni. She at first appears humane and kind but her true colors and anti-Semitic hate soon shine through which troubles Salek. He is startled at how much hate a young girl could harbor for human beings she knows nothing about.
The realization hits home to the audience as the power and influence that Hitler possessed with the ruination of human life in so many different ways.
A groundbreaking sequence occurs when a German soldier named Robert (André Wilms) attempts to molest Salek when he is privately bathing. Revealing his homosexuality to Salek while realizing Salek is Jewish makes them the best of friends.
They both have secrets that would get them instantly killed.
When Robert is mortally wounded he and a devastated Salek share a deathbed kiss forever cementing their bonding. The human connection is more powerful than a sexual one.
A reunion with a family member at the conclusion will melt the hardest of hearts.
Europa Europa could have been a darker film than it was because of the subject matter and perhaps should have been.
It’s not quite on par with All Quiet Along the Western Front or Schindler’s List (1993) in the annals of Nazi war films but is not far behind offering hate mixed with kindness in an exploration of human feeling and emotion amid chaos.
Shamefully, due to a ridiculous decision that the film didn’t meet eligibility requirements Europa Europa (1990) was not nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar but easily won the Golden Globe.
Despite the film’s omission, it went on to be a critical and commercial success in the United States achieving just desserts.
Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published