Lars von Trier’s Europa finally makes its debut on DVD courtesy of Criterion, presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
We’re given a rather wonderful looking video presentation here. The film is primarily black-and-white with splashes of colour. The pure black-and-white sequences look absolutely wonderful, with excellent contrast, showing off perfect grays and strong, deep blacks. The image is quite smooth and very detailed. I didn’t notice anything too bad in the way of artifacts, and the print itself is free of damage (I am of course not counting the damage that appears on the projected background images the actors are performing in front of through a lot of the film.)
The colour sequences or the black-and-white sequences that contain bits of colour come off a little rough, most likely due to how these sequences were filmed. They come off much grainier, which is fine, but does becoming a tad jarring when we cut from a very clean all black-and-white sequence. These sequences were shot in front of projected images (as were some all black-and-white sequences) so this process can more than likely be blamed for some of the issues (though it does serve the look of the film.) Other than one sequence, involving a red emergency brake handle, the colour scheme is pretty dull, relying more on grays and browns, but they’re well represented and skin tones look pretty accurate.
The film’s visual style is very unique (though the style has become more popular with mainstream fair like Sin City and the upcoming The Spirit) and the Criterion transfer does it justice. It has a few shortcomings but this has more to do with the source and how the film was shot. In the end it’s a very pleasing transfer. 8/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The Criterion Collection has put together a two-disc set for this release, spreading the supplements over the two dual-layer discs. Unfortunately, by the looks of it, Criterion seems to have ported everything from an R2 box set for the Europe Trilogy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but the collection of supplements look more at the technical aspects of the film rather than offering a more analytical approach, which in all honesty I would have found more interesting.
The first disc presents an audio commentary by director Lars von Trier and producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen. The track is in Danish with English subtitles. I was expecting a rather stuffy track but it’s actually quite loose and fun through most of its running time. But I was still hoping for some analysis on the film by von Trier, which doesn’t really happen. Instead the majority of the track talks about the grueling task of actually getting the money for the film, the technical aspects of shooting in front of a projected background (and shooting those background sequences) and they even suggest that the colour sequences were inserted into the film as a sort of compromise for investors who wanted the film to be in colour. But in all honesty I’m not sure how much of what is said can be taken too seriously and whether that statement is actually a fact, along with a lot of other things in the track. There’s a lot of laughter between the two, and they like to shoot down Nordisk Film throughout the track (I’m not too familiar with the studio so I can’t say I got everything they were talking about since they don’t expand on some of their comments) and also give actor Jørgen Reenberg rough criticisms while pretty much praising everyone else. They reminisce about the shoot, though have trouble recalling a lot of aspects, especially how certain sequences were filmed, and at times they act like they have never seen the film before, laughing at a lot of the things happening on screen and also acting surprised (though Jensen admits he fell asleep at the Cannes premiere.)
Overall I’m a bit conflicted about the commentary track. It was amusing but at the end of it I can’t say I really got all that much out of it about the film itself. “It’s amusing” is about all I can really say about it. Fans of Lars von Trier may want to give it a go but I think most everyone else could probably skip it. It’s disappointingly sparse and I think a more academic commentary may have been suiting.
Much better is the 39-minute The Making of Europa documentary, also found on the first disc. It’s been taken from a video tape and is presented in 1.33:1. It begins by offering an overview of von Trier’s Europe Trilogy and then gets right into Europa with von Trier talking a bit about his intentions, even offering that the look of the film was inspired by a children’s book, and we also get a view of the very complex storyboards for the film. A majority of the documentary concentrates on the shooting of the sequences that will be projected onto the screens the main actors will be working in front of. These sequences were shot in Poland and there’s a bit of discussion on working with the Polish extras. It then moves on to the main shoot which was mostly done in the studio in front of projection screens. While the documentary unfortunately doesn’t give a visual presentation on how some of the sequences in the film were done, like the colour-on-black-and-white scenes, it does give a spoken explanation. I also rather enjoyed watching how the train sequences were filmed. And as an added bonus there are brief interviews with Udo Kier and Eddie Constantine. It’s a decent making-of, offering a lot of information and behind-the-scenes footage. The feature has been divided into five chapters.
The first disc then closes with a rather lengthy theatrical trailer.
Moving on to Disc 2 we’re presented with a large assortment of interviews.
First up is a 44-minute segment called Trier’s Element, which is primarily a discussion with the director that was filmed in 1991. He talks a little about the trilogy as a whole and then concentrates the discussion on Europa, talking about how he wanted to make a more commercial/accessible film, the shoot in Poland (presented with some interesting footage of their living conditions during the shoot, the crew staying at what was apparently a “resort” for the Polish workers) and then gets deeper into the technical difficulties involved with shooting the film, and how the pacing and timing had to be perfect for every aspect of it so that when it would all come together it would flow correctly. There’s some footage from Cannes mixed in, along with a press conference where the director seems unsure on how to answer some of the questions. He also talks a bit about his relationship with the press. I think the most interesting aspect of this feature is the last little bit, which concentrates on a film von Trier plans to shoot over 30 years, called Dimension. I’m not sure if this project is still ongoing but it sounds absolutely fascinating and it’s a shame we only get a brief look at it here. In all this feature was probably my favourite out of everything on here. This feature has also been divided into 5 chapters.
Anecdotes from Europa is a 20-minute collection of interview clips involving film historian Peter Schepelerin, and various members of the crew of Europa, including actor Jean-Marc Barr, assistant director Tomas Gislason, co-writer Niels Vørsel, and prop master Peter Grant. The crew members reflect on the making of the film, offering their memories of the Poland locations, and how they were able to bribe actor Ernst-Hugo Järegárd with cigars so he’d be “less difficult” to work with. A nice reflection but nothing more.
From Dreyer to von Trier is a 13-minute interview with cinematographer Henning Bendtsen, who talks about working with director Carl Th. Dreyer and then working with the modern directors, specifically Lars von Trier. He even offers a story about a tuxedo Dreyer once owned making its way into von Trier’s wardrobe. Of the interviews on here specifically made for DVD this may be the best one as he goes a little bit into his work and makes comparisons between Dreyer and von Trier. This is also the only feature, other than the trailer, enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The Emotional Music Script presents a 12-minute interview with composer Joachim Holek, who talks about working with von Trier and coming onto Europa. He brings up the challenges about composing film scores and his techniques for doing so, which consists of him basically watching the film over and over again. He even talks about one sequence he had a lot of trouble writing music for. In all it offers a decent look at the process of creating a score for a film.
And we continue on with yet more anecdotes (which this release is just full of) this time in Lars von Trier – Anecdotes. This 16-minute feature offers anecdotes specifically about von Trier and their work with him on various projects, not just Europa. We hear from costume designer Manon Rasmussen, film school teacher Mogens Rukov, editor-director Tomas Gislason, producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen, art director Peter Grant, production manager Per Arman, and actors Michael Simpson and Ole Ernst. Overall it’s just the interviewees sharing their memories about working with the director and there’s some decent material in here (Simpson seems to have gotten it the worst out of everyone here) but it does feel a little like filler. Most interesting aspect: Apparently von Trier is actually a nice guy and just pretends to be an “a--hole”.
The only real analytical material we get is from a 2005 interview with Lars von Trier in the feature called A Conversation with Lars von Trier. Here von Trier and interviewer Bo Green Jensen go through the trilogy over 44-minutes. It’s somewhat dry but has some decent material. He can’t recall everything (even has trouble with some of the plot details of the films) but he offers up his memories of the films, some influences, Tarkovsky, a director he obviously adores, being a key influence on his body of work. He talks about other directors like David Lynch who influenced him on The Kingdom, and then gets into Orson Welles whose films were an influence on Europa, along with Laughtons’ Night of the Hunter. I was amused by a moment where Jensen comments about a “glossy” look that Europa has which von Trier takes as a mild insult, the director stating a dislike of “glossy” films (Jensen of course didn’t mean it in a negative way.) It’s a somewhat informative interview but after looking through other supplements on this disc and then this one it’s obvious von Trier isn’t one that really enjoys answering questions or offering much insight into his films.
And finally we come to the last feature on the disc, called Europa: The Faecal Location, which is total filler, but at least offers a little more on the crews’ living conditions while filming in Poland, some footage already spread out through other supplements on this release. This one, though, concentrates heavily on issues with the plumbing, the toilets specifically. There’s also a rather somewhat humiliating story involving von Trier and an apple that he should have washed first before eating. It’s a somewhat crude feature but at least gives an idea as to how the crew were able to pass the time with their rather lousy living arrangements and that the set was at least fun.
This closes off the disc supplements. The release does come with a small booklet containing an essay by Howard Hampton, offering a brief analysis of the film, the trilogy, and von Trier’s work.
As you can see there is a lot on here yet I can’t say I was wholly satisfied. I was interested in the technical aspects of the film but there was probably too much of that on here (along with anecdotal filler) and not enough of an analytical aspect. I’m disappointed Criterion simply ported these features from another DVD release yet didn’t add anything really of their own, not even a scholarly commentary track, which I would have welcomed. There’s other things I would have also been more interested in (the one time I would have actually cared to see the storyboards, which are mentioned throughout the features, and they’re actually not included as a feature) but they’ve been passed over. It’s a loaded release, but in all honesty I think I felt more satisfied with the one hour’s worth of material found on Criterion’s lower tier release of White Dog than I did with the roughly five hours worth of material here. There is some good stuff buried in here but I felt it was minimal. 7/10