Following the death of his father Vasili (William Zappa), Melbourne born Isaac (Ewen Leslie) takes the ashes back to his father's birthplace in Greece where he finds himself on a trail - through Paris to Budapest - of a shocking family secret.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
We get the sense watching Dead Europe that author Christos Tsialkos is so angry at old Europe he can't quite control his outpouring of resentment. It's as if everything that's wrong with the world is the fault of Europe and its warring nations and communities. It plays like a primal scream: loud and anguished ... and a bit incoherent. Oddly enough, Jed Kurzel's score - which I really like - doesn't play on this anger and is a satisfying visceral soundscape (helped along by Sam Petty's sound design).
Ewen Leslie's Isaac is in Europe for the first time; it's his ancestral home but not his cultural base. Nothing feels familiar, the old fears and whispers of a curse are laughable. At first, anyway. His journey is, on the surface, simple: to scatter the ashes of his father at his mountain birthplace. Nothing is as he expects, least of all the emotional mountains in his path.
Dense and intense, Dead Europe is cinematically alive, with director Tony Krawitz sure of his footing as he takes us in close to his characters, prying, probing, pricking ... and involving us at a deep emotional level. This helps to smooth over the film's rougher story patches, where elements that may have been irresistible from the novel don't always fit snugly into the narrative.
Leslie is terrific in the role of the understated, unattached gay innocent / ignorant, as is Kodi Smit-McPhee as Josef, the mysterious young lost boy who symbolises the core of the dramatic engine. Marton Csokas gives an astonishing performance as Isaac's long estranged brother living on the edge in Budapest, through whom we meet Syd, played with haunting power by Igal Naor, a major figure but an unexpected character in an underground child sex and porn racket. Here, the story staples together the family secret with the symbolic exploitation of young boys.
It leads on to a resolution which is for me unsatisfactory, but I recognise that the filmmakers have no interest in trying to manipulate this story into a conveyor belt product with a happy ending.
The themes are dark, almost nihilistic, the sense of guilt and death overpowering as if we were witness to the waste manufactured and passed by the human condition.
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DEAD EUROPE (MA15+)
CAST: Ewen Leslie, Marton Csokas, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jean-Francois Balmer, Igal Naor, William Zappa, Francoise Lebrun
PRODUCER: Liz Watts, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning
DIRECTOR: Tony Krawitz
SCRIPT: Louise Fox (novel by Christos Tsiolkas)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Germain McMicking
EDITOR: Alexandre de Franceschi, Scott Gray
MUSIC: Jed Kurzel
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Fiona Crombie
RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 15, 2012