Hot on the heels of the successful miniseries adaptation of the very popular 2008 Christos Tsiolkas novel The Slap, Dead Europe is Tony Krawitz‘s feature film debut, and a stirring adaptation of one of Tsiolkas’ most divisive literary efforts. The attraction of The Slap will be sure to get some fans through cinema doors, though I’m not altogether sure they’ll be pleased with what they see; this film does not present a cut and dry he-said/she-said situation and force the viewer to take sides before completely blurring the reality of the situation and forcing one to question their morals. This film preaches a sickly nihilistic, post-holocaust world view.
Dead Europe tells the story of Isaac (Ewen Leslie); a first generation Greek-Australian whose father is secretive, communist and atheist, and his mother is deeply superstitious and devoutly Greek-Orthodox. With the familiar narration we’re used to from Tsiolkas, we are lead on a journey of polar opposites that frame the core of this film; the past clashes with the present, reality blurs with imagining, the truth of freedom and entrapment are obscured, life, and death become inseparable.
Isaac’s father begins acting strangely and suddenly dies in an horrific car accident. Strong and idealistic, Isaac cremates his father against his mother wishes, and returns to the old country to spread the ashes; his first trip to his ancestral homeland, where he hopes to lay some family ghosts to rest, and find out the truth of his family’s curse. However what he finds is not what he expected.
This film paints a vastly different but incredibly realist portrait of a Europe in turmoil; race tension boils menacingly under the surface of some of the worlds most beautiful cities, poverty and decay lurk in the lane-way’s just off major tourist hot spots, civilisation and decorum make way for abject brutality and lawlessness.
Screenwriter Louise Fox (who we would more commonly associate with Always Greener, and Love My Way) has taken huge liberties with the storyline and presents us with a depressing, yet still vastly more optimistic tale of conflict in the modern world, challenging the world view and our ideals of anti-Semitism, than in Tsiolkas’ novel. Perhaps if there were a vampire twist I may have left the film feeling less destructive and inwardly dead and more like I’d just seen an obscenely critical vampire film. You have been warned.
Dead Europe is in Australian cinemas from 1 November through Transmisson Films.