January 16, New York: When I was a teenager, my uncle Fred and I had a routine. During my visits to Louisiana, on one night we would go down to the video store, pick out a movie, and bring it home to watch on Fred’s massive TV with 360 degree surround sound. Two guys having a movie night. But we’re not talking about giant action blockbusters or otherwise typical big-tv-guys’-night films (Looking at you, Shawshank). No, Fred introduced me to quality foreign cinema. This was really where my film education began.
There are a handful of movies I remember watching from that period, but probably Europa Europa most of all. It really stuck with me. There were others (Rouge, Blanc, and Bleu, for example), but this is the one I think of when I think of those nights. As it was the story of a teenager— a young Jew hiding his identity to survive in Nazi Germany— the age resonance might have been a part of why.
As I sat down to watch it this time I realized there was only one thing I remembered: the foreskin problem. Much of the film focuses on the fact that “Solly” is circumcised. The one thing that would give him away. The film does indeed open with Solly’s circumcision as an infant. But there is much more to this movie; it’s really quite good. Solly’s story is unbelievable, but true. It is remarkable to see a ground level view of World War II on the Soviet-Nazi front. The mass delusion and indoctrination on both sides is fascinating; Solly is in both a Soviet orphanage and a Hitler Youth school. And, as a bonus: a tiny, teenaged Julie Delpy in perhaps her very first role.
It’s not very easy to find Europa Europa these days. I bought a used DVD through the Amazons and had it shipped to me.