Europe, She Loves: SFF 2016

Swiss director Jan Gassmann’s intimate observational documentary, Europe, She Loves (2016), is a love-letter to Europe. A camera tracks across scenes from different cities in Europe, as if seen from the back window of a passing car, celebrating the ease with which this pan-European crew can move from one city to the next. The work itself is the result of extensive collaboration between crews across five European cities: Tallinn, Dublin, Seville, Thessaloniki, and Zagreb. And the stories of the four young couples, one from each city (- The Zagreb story was left out of the final film -), unifies, rather than separates, these different cultures with their overwhelming sense of shared humanity.

This love-letter, however, is no paean, but a eulogy.  Gassmann is well aware of the challenges facing Europe, and news bulletins are repeatedly used to draw attention to the various crises playing out across the EU. The couples seemingly live their microcosmic lives divorced from the broader forces at play, but in truth the macro powers assert themselves forcefully into the deepest inner sancta of these private relationships: Caro, a girl in Seville, unable to find a job amid high youth unemployment, leaves her boyfriend behind and heads out on her own towards Paris; Veronika, a Tallinn mother of two, tries to support her family by performing as a go-go dancer all night long, while breast-feeding during the day; a Dublin couple, through an overwhelming boredom caused by lack of opportunities, fall inexorably back into drugs; a Thessaloniki couple whose relationship is on the brink because the girl, Penny, is poised to leave Greece, against the backdrop of street riots.

One of the most striking things about the film is the rare intimacy with which Gassmann has been brought into these lovers’ lives, filming the couples in their most private of moments, not excluding sex. The sex in the film, far from being gratuitous, draws us more profoundly into the deep personal bonds between characters; the nuances of the various relationships explored through the slightest of body language and gesture.

Gassmann loves his characters as much as he loves Europe, and one cannot help but feel, as the various couples feel the strain between each other, the underlying angst that is simmering away in Europe’s heart. The only hope that remains is perhaps indicated in the strength of the love between the Estonian couple, who are the ones closest to healing their ruptures and forging the foundations of a shared future together.

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