DEAD EUROPE. Starring Ewen Leslie, Marton Csokas, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jean-Francois Balmer, Igal Naor, William Zappa, Francoise Lebrun. Directed by Tony Krawitz. 84 minutes Rated MA 15+ ( Strong violence, strong language).
Christos Tsiolkas has become one of Australia’s celebrated novelists. There was a 1999 film version of his novel, Loaded, called Head On. ABC television produced an 8-part series of his multi-faceted The Slap. This version of his novel, Dead Europe, a large book, runs for only 84 minutes, offers key elements by brief episodes, succinct character sketches and pieces of dialogue which reveal character and plot quickly and economically.
Dead Europe is often a morose look at Greek migrants to Australia, their culture and their faith and their superstitions, especially curses, the secrets from the old country and the need for purging past guilts. It is also something of a morose look at present Europe, from Greece to France to Hungary. While there is some beauty and vitality, the film focuses on bitterness and hatreds, betrayals, drug culture and sex slavery. And leaves us with few answers to our queries and questions.
Ewen Leslie plays Isaak, a gay photographer, who is appaled by his father’s death and his mother’s talking of a curse. He decides to go back to Greece, the first of his family to do so, and scatter his father’s ashes in the mountains. He meets relatives who are hostile to his family, a cousin who had visited Melbourne and another friend (which leads to drugs and sexual gropings). But, photographing in Athens, he comes across a teenage boy who is being beaten and rescues him (KodiSmit McPhee). The boy reappears throughout the film in different guises and in dreams. He becomes identified with a boy that Isaak’s father was to have sheltered during the war but failed him. Is the boy to be the instrument of vengeance and fulfillment of the curse?
Isaak’s journey takes him to Paris to connect with a friend of his father. But that leads nowhere. So, he travels to Budapest to find his brother who had left Australia long since and has immersed himself in a seedy world of drugs and exploitation of young boys – where the mysterious Josef re-appears, again confronting Isaak.
Whether this is an adequate version of Tsiolkas large novel, experts will have their say. What writer, Louise Fox, and director Tony Krawitz (Jewboy, The Tall Man) have done is to distill the core of the novel and the characters and to portray a man’s sometimes morbid search for the truth and for his own personal, family and ethnic identity. It is striking and challenging film-making.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out November 15, 2012.