Take a picture – Dead Europe review

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By Richard Haridy
March 19, 2013

Christos Tsiolkas’ 2005 novel, Dead Europe, is as close to unfilmable as they come. Its sharply bifurcated structure and transgressive tone contained explicit moments that could never be directly transferred to celluloid. Director Tony Krawitz certainly can’t be faulted for his ambition, yet, despite some magnificent technical credits, his cinematic adaptation of this controversial book ends up muddled and misguided.

Ewen Leslie plays Isaac, a Melbourne-based photographer who sets off to Europe after his father dies in a car accident. Determined to scatter his dad’s ashes in their home town, Isaac uses the opportunity to delve into his family history; a topic his parents have conspicuously avoided discussing all these years. In Greece, Isaac discovers his family has a dark past, and as he digs deeper into his bloodline’s sins, his grip on reality slowly weakens.

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For too much of its duration, Dead Europe is frustratingly inscrutable, jumping from scene to scene seemingly in a rush to get to its next destination. Running at little more than 80 minutes, it is perplexing to see such a dense story pared to the bone. It’s clear writer Louise Cox has dramatically reworked Tsiolkas’ concept in order to make it work as a movie; as a result, her screenplay makes too many narrative leaps to be wholly comprehensible. It often feels like we should be given cliff notes to add in details of the clearly rich mythology skirting the outlines of the story. Krawitz does a great job anchoring the picture with a portentous tone. For the most part, however, it’s a disappointingly inaccessible experience that frequently feels like it is trying to “art” up what could’ve been a more straightforward and enjoyable genre set-up.

Technically, Dead Europe is magnificent; from its claustrophobic location photography to Jed Kurzel’s hauntingly immersive score and Sam Petty’s sinister sound design. Something grand was being attempted by a group of dedicated filmmakers here. Sadly, it all adds up to an unsatisfying whole, topped off by a jarring misfire of an ending. Dead Europe is ambitious and worthy, but misses the target.

2.5/5

Dead Europe is available on DVD from March 27, 2013. 

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