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Thursday, February 14, 2008

reflections, reflections: reviewing olivier, olivier and europa, europa

Olivier, Olivier is a very engaging film because it has lots of suspenseful twists and is able to sustain the mystery up to the very end. For instance, I did not expect Marcel, a family friend of Duval’s, to be the culprit behind Olivier’s disappearance. He did not seem the type who could manage to live blissfully along with the family whose son’s death he caused, let alone rape children like Olivier. Marcel’s eventual police confession of the crime was a revelation to me.
In European films, sex scenes are shown the way they naturally happen. Scenes depicting sexual intercourses seem less romanticized, i.e. no background music, no metaphors of volcanoes about to erupt, minimal sweet nothings—matters that may show humanity but not necessarily meant to arouse the baser desires in the audience. Compared to these, American and Filipino films with sex scenes are deemed fetishizing and malicious, respectively, because of the Americans’ take at money-making objectification and Filipinos’ moralistic conservatism, cultures that are different from that of the Europeans.
All throughout the movie, the swing was always shown with Olivier in it—until the reason for his disappearance was divulged. One interpretation is that due to the revelation, the fake Olivier can no longer pretend to be—and in effect, replace—the real Olivier, hence the latter’s image’s non-necessity to haunt the swing. Two others are that with the image’s final disappearance, the family’s hope to find the lost son vanishes too and the dead boy is already free with no more Marcel victims in tow. Meanwhile, the ball rolling with the clown’s face points to the illusion the fake Olivier affected for pretending to be someone else. Clowns symbolize make-believe, and the hustler will make Olivier’s mother believe he is the lost son.
The last scene wherein Olivier enters the room with Elizabeth staring glassy-eyed into the blank space suggests that the mother already knew the real score about her lost son, and in her hysteria, was drugged by the veterinarian father in order to calm her. Being tranquilized, Elizabeth could only look “stoned” instead of bawling out.
I have little suspicion regarding Marcel’s culpability because I got carried away by the director’s suspenseful handling of the scenes such that I believed Olivier ran away willfully. Besides, Marcel seemed harmless, as any family friend in real life appear to be.
Olivier, Olivier and Europa, Europa are entitled thus for emphasis: repeating the name tells that the plots have their respective subjects as the center of the stories, which case helps the audience grasp intuitively what the films are about.
The drowning scene at the beginning of Europa, Europa prepares the audience of the life the main character, Solomon Perel, will lead: suffocated, because he lacks the air to breathe his true identity and is being devoured by the waters of deceit.
Perel’s dream of a dinner with his family who slowly vanishes from him refers to the major consequence of hiding his identity: losing the family he identifies himself best in, aside from his country. Meanwhile, the dream of sharing the elevator with Hitler is a mockery on his having to give up his Jewish identity and assume the life-saving German pretense, whereas in the dream, Hitler himself owns up to being a Jewish, the identity Perel is trying to hide in the first place.
The soldiers themselves praised Perel for being a great hero, and I agree to their observation. The very fact that he ultimately charged into the Jewish side to join his own kind showed how he finally threw away the opportunity to rise above the German-caused persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.
Both the impostor Olivier and Perel decided to shed their deceit in order to liberate themselves and the people around them. While the two acted favorably according to human standards, I was affected more by Perel because the stakes were higher with his eventual admission of true citizenship—his life-altering choice to embrace his Jewish nationality poses a greater challenge, I believe.
Europa, Europa, if only for the happier ending it had than Olivier, Olivier, is the film I like better. The high-risk stakes met make me admire the Holocaust movie more, beside the fact that it is more complex and humanly interesting.
Agniezka Holland is a director who has the power to disturb her audience wit the plausible characters she creates and with the heartbreaking settings and scenes she renders. For that, I become one with the critics who praise her films to high heavens.

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