Posted July 19, 2012 by Greg Evans in Features
 
 

European Wonders – Best Of The Rest


Over the past months, Greg Evans has taken us on a colossal cinemagraphic tour of the very best of European film. We’ve admired the artistic flair of France. The decadence of Italy. The epic magnitude of Germany. The mysticism of Spain and the darkness of Scandinavia. Now, in this final installment of the series, Greg as he takes a look at some of Europe’s more obscure filmic gems.

Over the past months, Greg
Evans has taken us on a colossal cinemagraphic tour of the very best of
European film. We’ve admired the artistic flair of France. The decadence of
Italy. The epic magnitude of Germany. The mysticism of Spain and the darkness
of Scandinavia. Now, in this final installment of the series, Greg as he takes
a look at some of Europe’s more obscure filmic gems.

The
Pianist (Poland)

Some may say that films like
Dekalog or Ashes And Diamonds should be included in this list. Yet it would be
wrong to overlook one of Poland’s greatest directors. Roman Polanski’s depiction of the incredible true story about the
famous pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, was
a cinematic masterclass as well as an awards favourite. Telling the story of
how Szpilman survived World War 2 against all odds, earned Adrien Brody the Best Actor Oscar and gave Polanski a new vitality
to his work.

Soldier
Of Orange (Holland)
Paul
Verhoeven
is perhaps best know as the notorious director of Robocop, Total Recall and Showgirls.
These sexually explicit and violent films became his trademark during the
‘90’s but, before then, he had made very different films. Soldier Of Orange is
a fictional take on the inclusion of Holland during World War II. Starring Rutger Hauer, this terrific war film seems a million miles away from
Verhoeven’s later work, although you can see, here, the themes that he would
later revisit.

Funny
Games (Austria)

Austrian director Michael Haneke holds the honour of
appearing in three of these lists. Although he has gained praise, recently, for
films like The White Ribbon and Hidden, his most talked about and
shocking film is Funny Games. The film focuses on a wealthy German family whose
quiet retreat is invaded by a pair of young men who torture them and force them
to participate in a number of sick and twisted games. Let’s be honest, Funny
Games is not a pleasant film to watch. But it does raise important questions
about violence and the media, and actively challenges the viewer and their
‘enjoyment’ of these vile acts.

Closely Watched Trains
(Czech Republic)

This
quirky little coming-of-age film marked a significant period for
Czechoslovakian new wave cinema. Centred around a remote train station in
Czechoslovakia towards the end of World War II, the films focuses on the
different individuals who work at the station. Often funny, sometimes bleak,
this is an uplifting film which, at first viewing, will surprise you then amaze
you with its subtly on repeat viewings.



Werckmeister
Harmonies (Hungary)

For anyone who has not seen
a Bela Tarr film, let’s just say
that they are slow. Amazingly, this film only contains 39 long shots – an
audacious feat for a film that manages to encompass so many emotions and
concepts. The residents of a small town in Hungary become increasingly restless
upon the arrival of a giant stuffed whale in their town square. Accompanying
the whale is the mysterious prince, whose mere presence is enough to unleash
sheer anarchy upon the town. This is a film that demands a lot of patience, but
is beautifully rewarding.

Dogtooth
(Greece)

Dogtooth tells the story of
a couple who keep their three children locked up and isolated from the outside
world. Initially protecting them from any sort of harmful material or damaging
knowledge, the parents’ stranglehold eventually becomes much stricter and
sadistic as the film goes on. What starts out as a satirical black comedy with
surreal undertones, soon morphs into a brutal, incestuous and revealing film,
as one of the children uncovers their parents’ deception. Dogtooth starts out
fairly silly, but the conclusion is a highly suspenseful ride that will have
you on the edge of your seat.

Man
Bites Dog (Belgium)

Much like Dogtooth, Man
Bites Dog is a dark, satire on society. It follows a film crew who are
attempting to make a movie about Ben (Benoit
Poelvoorde)
, a charismatic serial killer with a love for the arts.
Presented in a mockumentary style, the gruesome murders that take place were so
graphic, many believed that the film was for real and the film quickly gained a
notorious reputation. Although it is immensely disturbing, it can also be very
funny as Ben proves himself to be a memorable if horrible human being.

Uzak
(Turkey)

Uzak, meaning
‘Distant’, is about two relatives and the differences in their relationships.
Mahmut is a wealthy, intelligent photographer who has become disgruntled by his
mundane job and lack of excitement in his life. In contrast, Yusuf is unemployed
and has little interest in anything remotely intellectual. Needless to say both
men do not get along. Uzak has a strong message about today’s generation and
our ignorance about the more precious things in life. The tragedy of Uzak is
that Emin Topak, who played Yusuf,
died in a car crash a short while after the films completion. Making the film’s
message even more poignant.

Stalker
(Russia)

As far as art house
directors go, few are as respected as Andrei
Tarkovsky.
Films like Solaris and
Andrei Rublev regularly feature on
many ‘best films ever’ lists. However, most of the time one of his greatest
films gets overlooked. This sci-fi film follows three men (Stalker, Writer and
Professor) as they venture into the strange land, known only as ‘The Zone’ in
order to find the ‘The Room’. Intense, trippy, imaginative, funny and unique
are just a few words you could use to describe Stalker but, to many of its
fans, it is more than just a film.
It’s an exploration of life, memory and mans’ deepest desires. It questions the
value one man has over another and whether we have the rights to play with
other’s lives. Overall, a remarkable film.

Underground
(Yugoslavia)

The word masterpiece is an
overused term in the context of cinema. Yet Emir Kusturica’s film about Yugoslavia’s terrible history in wars
is as close as you’ll get to the word’s true definition. Underground starts out
in World War II and follows two friends, Marko and Blacky – a pair of lovable
rogues with ties to the communist party – who also enjoy the odd scrap with
Nazis. They also happen to be in love with the same woman, the beautiful
Natalija. But the film doesn’t just stay here, it goes onto Yugoslavia’s involvement
in the Cold War and eventually the countries’ own bloody civil war in the 90’s.
While many other films of this genre tend to focus on the fighting or the
politics, Underground chooses to look, in depth, at the people involved in the
struggle and how they continue with their lives. One of the opening scenes is
of a zoo getting hit by bombs from the German airforce and this is truly
distressing and moving. Yet, very quickly ,we are greeted with the arrival of a
newborn baby in the next scene. Within the first 20 minutes, the viewer has
experienced the tragedy of death followed by the adulation of birth. This
juxtaposition of emotions is ripe throughout the film. One minute you will be
crying. The next you will be hysterics. No film has ever really captured what
war is truly like, but Underground comes close. Bizarre and savage, Underground
is an amazing allegory of a nation’s plight and the people that loved it.
Masterpiece.


Greg Evans