Europe's dark, dark past is dredged up in this dour cross-country drama from Australian director Tony Krawitz.
We can never escape the sins of our past – at least that's what Australian director Tony Krawitz would have us believe in Dead Europe, his first feature film. As times tense and ripped from strong source material by controversial author Christos Tsiolka ('The Slap'), this art house-come-gothic tale never quite manages to successfully come together as a whole, yet occasionally glimmers in its attempt to dissect Europe’s dark past.
Opening far from European soil in 1990s Melbourne, gay photographer Isaac (Ewen Leslie) is launching his new show. His father, disgusted with his son’s work, leaves after an argument, but not before munching on a handful of dirt. The suitably strange, ominous tone of the piece is set up, followed soon after by the father hurtling to his death in a car accident.
Determined to bury his father in their ancestral home of Greece – a place Isaac has never been to (as we are told multiple times) because of a mysterious past never discussed by the family – he flies out to receive a frosty welcome from his Greek family.
Slowly but surely, Isaac gathers the elusive information about his father's past which hinges on a mysterious curse. In his pursuit for the truth, Isaac dashes across Europe from Paris to Budapest, gradually discovering his family's dark secret. His journey peppered with the surreal appearance of a small boy who keeps cropping up wherever Isaac goes.
This representation of a nightmarish Europe that is unable to shed itself of the guilt of the Holocaust and is still suffering from religious tension provides an interesting backdrop, but ultimately feels overblown. It's very bleak and oppressive. Amorphous, lavishly shot cities are haunted by the ghosts of the past which shadow us around every street corner. The tone does at least create a brooding atmosphere, enhanced by the intense sound design which feels like the past is quite literately stalking our protagonist.
The psychological premise states that every generation lives with a constant reminder of the past and that solace must be found in anonymous, random sex and plenty of drugs. So, Isaac randomly goes dogging in a Parisian park and has a drug-hazed threesome with his cousin and her boyfriend. The suggestion is that Generation Z doesn’t know – or doesn't want to known – Europe’s murky past and present, so instead turns on, tunes in and drops out.
But this exploration of a huge historical question (how do we deal with the Holocaust?) in the context of modern life just doesn’t gel. It's too heavy handed for an otherwise entertaining drama that doesn’t quite know how to play its hand.
With an interesting premise, controversial source material and coming from the producers of Animal Kingdom there were clear signs of promise.
Plenty of big themes to digest (homosexuality, guilt, history) but lacking in cohesion it’s a classic case of saying too much and not enough at the same time and all too bleakly.
Macabre, spiteful and all too bleak in its juxtaposition of generations and their transference of guilt.