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by Sudabeh Mortezai

grade: 7.5

Europa tells not one, but many stories of as many people experiencing in turn many different realities within the same continent. An extraordinarily topical film that is far more complex and layered than it might initially seem. At the Viennale 2023.

The thousand faces of Europe

The greatest limits are those we set for ourselves. This could be a key concept in the feature film Europa, the newest work by director Sudabeh Mortezai, which had its world premiere in competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival 2023 and its Austrian premiere at the Viennale 2023. This, then, is also what Beate (played by Lilith Stangenberg) explains to some students at the University of Tirana at the opening of the feature film. And, in fact, in Europa, the limits that everyone sets for themselves, the fear of novelty, but also, at the same time, the desire for power on the part of enterprises with unspecified purposes play a central role.

In order to tell all this on the movie screen, therefore, the director has precisely staged the story of Beate, a young manager who works for a major multinational company and who travels to rural Albania for a few days in order to ask some farmers about the possibility of acquiring their land in exchange for important economic aid. It will not be easy, however, to achieve that goal, since those who have been living there for years absolutely do not want to sell their land, even though they live in severe poverty and cannot even secure a future for their children.

On this strong contrast, that is, the contrast between those who still live in a place where time seems to have stood still and those who are constantly looking to the future, Europa is based. The result is a continuous, exhausting struggle between two different worlds in which it is very, very easy to get hurt. Just as we see both in the opening and closing of the feature film (when a man attempts to attack those who took everything he had away from him), and when the protagonist herself, at night, in her bedroom, seems to find no peace even when conversing with her son.

Specifically, then, in Europa particularly interesting are the female characters (to whom Sudabeh Mortezai has always devoted great attention in all her works). Beate is a young career woman, a seemingly unscrupulous woman, but who, in reality, turns out to be much more fragile than she might initially seem. Seemingly close to everyone she happens to meet during her stay in Albania, she nevertheless always maintains a certain distance from that world which is so distant from her own. Yet, a certain guilt toward those who have always shown themselves incredibly affectionate toward her is clearly visible.

At the same time, however, there are also women who are deeply attached to the past and traditions. Women who cannot make any decisions in a society where patriarchy always still plays a central role, but who somehow strongly desire a future different from the one their families have planned for them.

Sudabeh Mortezai, for her part, has rendered such contrasts to perfection on the movie screen, opting for a directorial approach that makes stark realism, moments in which the camera follows the protagonist through her days, brutal protests observed from inside a car, but also tension-filled moments and lively village parties its workhorses. Europa tells not one, but many stories of as many people experiencing in turn many different realities within the same continent. An extraordinarily topical and equally complex and layered film that only the experienced eye of those who have themselves experienced it all can well depict.

Original title: Europa
Directed by: Sudabeh Mortezai
Country/year: Austria, UK / 2023
Running time: 98’
Genre: drama
Cast: Lilith Stangenberg, Jetnor Gorezi, Steljona Kadillari, Mirando Sylari, Tobias Winter, Jeff Ricketts
Screenplay: Sudabeh Mortezai
Cinematography: Klemens Hufnagl
Produced by: Fratella Filmproduktion, Good Chaos

Info: the page of Europa on iMDb; the page of Europa on the website of the Viennale; the page of Europa on the website of the Austrian Film Commission