The Movie Waffler BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - EUROPA | The Movie Waffler

BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - EUROPA

Europa review
A representative of a shady corporation is dispatched to Albania to convince farmers to sell their land.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sudabeh Mortezai

Starring: Lilith Stangenberg, Jetnor Gorezi, Steljona Kadillari, Mirando Sylari

Europa poster

There's an early scene in writer/director Sudabeh Mortezai's Europa that sees a young Albanian translator give a pair of westerners a tour of bunkers built during the communist regime of the dictator Enver Hoxha. The young man speaks of how the dictator was paranoid about being invaded by the west, but that the invasion never happened.

The ensuing film suggests that Hoxha was right to be paranoid, that the western invasion of his country is now underway. The invaders don't roll into town in tanks, rather they're chauffeured around, and rather than military fatigues, they favour pantsuits.

Europa review

One such invader is a shady corporation known as Europa. Intent on getting its hands on land that has been occupied by generations of Bektashi farmers, Europa has dispatched an Austrian representative, Beate (Lilith Stangenberg), to convince the farmers to leave their homes. To do so she's weaponised western liberalism, dangling the carrot of scholarships to young Albanian women eager to taste a world they only see on the screens of their smartphones.

Before heading to the valley in question, Beate visits a university in Tirana and delivers a Hillary Clinton-esque speech filled with vague references to "diversity" and "empowerment," promising that Europa is committed to the young women of Albania, whom they view as "the future of Europe."

As is usually the case with corporations that make such claims, it's all bollocks of course. Beate simply needs to get those pesky peasants out of her way, and if she can turn their daughters against them, all the better.

Europa review

From a liberal western perspective, you can sympathise with the desire of such young women to leave their homes and pursue their own dreams rather than those of their parents. But in a wider sense you can also sympathise with people who have no interest in leaving the land they've called home for hundreds of years. The Bektashi might be considered a regressive, even misogynistic culture, but any change must come from within, not from bullying outsiders, especially those with dubious motivations like Europa.

The exact nature of Europa is kept ambiguous, but we're given enough evidence to suggest they're not in Albania to build nurseries. When dealing with the locals, Beate puts on a friendly face and speaks of how striking a deal can help the community. But as soon as she leaves their homes she reaches for hand sanitiser, and on video calls to her family she mocks their primitive ways. When offered the traditional drink of Raki, she either winces or passes the glass on to her assistant, and one deal is almost scuppered by her refusal to eat the food a local woman has lovingly prepared.

When Beate receives a phone call in the middle of the night we see a more explicitly malevolent side emerge. A group of young westerners who claim to be urban explorers but whom Beate suspects of activism are held captive in a cage when they're caught intruding in one of Europa's sites. Beate interrogates the group like a Gestapo officer, and we're left to wonder if the movie is about to take a particularly dark turn at that point.

Europa review

As Beate, Stangenberg is a terrifying presence, one of the great villains of recent cinema. It's riveting to watch her move through the gears as Beate gradually changes her approach from a benevolent figure who claims to want to improve the life of a disadvantaged community to one who employs the sort of tactics you might expect from a mobster running a protection racket. Hitting a brick wall, she sells herself as the lesser of two evils, telling the villagers that if they don't agree to her terms they'll have to deal with someone who will treat them far worse. It's difficult not to think of how today's liberal politicians sell themselves to voters.

At the same time, we're left in no doubt that for all her ruthless ambition, Beate is merely a footsoldier. We see her patronised and condescended to by an American (of course) male superior who clearly knows her attractive female features have a better chance of getting away with such shady dealings than a white man. When Beate tries to manipulate the daughter of a stubborn farmer into guilt-tripping her dad, the pair communicate in English, two levels of colonisation at play without a single shot needing to be fired.

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