Movie still taken from the AGO’s website.
Israeli director Yael Bartana’s provocative film trilogy is named And Europe Will Be Stunned. Well, Europe’s not the only one. The trilogy is currently playing at the AGO, making its first appearance ever at a major museum, and will be there until April 26.
In the first film, Nightmares (2007), a young Polish idealist with very large glasses — who becomes our protagonist, and also somewhat of a cult-like leader — calls for three million Jews to return to Poland so they may heal their wounds together. “We will become you and you will become us!” he says. It’s an interesting way to start the trilogy, and more than hints at post-world war two Poland (except that in reality, the remaining Jewish citizens in Poland — just 11 per cent of their original 3.3 million — were greeted not with warmth, but an anti-semitic Soviet government).
The second film, Wall and Tower (2009), sees our leader, Stawek, giving physical form to his vision. A troop of fresh-faced Poles (or Jews — this was never made clear, and I’m still not sure) erect a crude-looking kibbutz (a communal settlement) in the middle of a Warsaw park, to entice Polish Jews to come home from exile. The kibbutz, oddly, includes a watch tower and is surrounded by barbed wire, which leaves the viewer with a chilling image reminiscent of the Nazi death camps that, during the war, were spread out through the Polish countryside. Wall and Tower also delivers some of the trilogy’s best camerawork; when Stawek himself arrives to deliver the flag that will hang from the top of the watch tower, a camera follows it as it passes hand-to-hand through the kibbutz and up the four-storey tower.
Assassination (2011), the third film, makes a martyr out of Stawek as he is killed by an unknown assassin. A (terribly dull, drawn-out) funeral is held for the leader, during which his followers vow to carry on his vision despite his death. Watching mourners drop flowers onto Stawek’s open casket, one by one, with excruciating slowness, is an embarrassingly overwrought attempt at poignancy, which falls flat. Assassination is the longest of the films (or, at least, it feels like it is), and the dialogue reads like a preachy PSA for combatting anti-semitism.
The And Europe Will Be Stunned trilogy does, in fact, stun — but does so with its inaccessibility. There are moments of clarity or something similar to it, but they are few and far apart, and very fleeting. The average viewer, who probably isn’t well-versed in Jewish-Polish history and its part in the creation of Israel, will undoubtedly miss the trilogy’s intricacies, and leave the theatre utterly perplexed.
(This was written for the March 2012 issue of the Ryerson Free Press.)