London Film Festival 2012 – day one: Dead Europe
Thursday 11th October, 6.30pm – Curzon Mayfair
Friday 13thOctober, 1.30pm – Hackney Picturehouse
An Australian drama with a European sensibility, that becomes increasingly dark, and then darker still.
Isaac is a second generation, second son Australian Greek who returns to the homeland to scatter his father’s ashes. No one in the family has visited Greece since the parents left at the end of the war, and it turns out that there may be a terrible family secret buried in the past.
Ewan Lesley as Isaac is contemporary and appealing, a photographer with a cosmopolitan approach to sex and drugs. Youth shares an international language and attitude, and although he discovers kindred spirits in cousins he meets for the first time, the more people Isaac talks to, the more they reveal their beliefs and old style prejudices. He is incredulous at the superstitious murmurs he hears from the older generation about a curse, but gradually realises that an old family story of a Jewish boy his father had saved may not be true.
Unable to resist getting more involved, Isaac travels to Paris to meet an old friend of his fathers, and then to Budapest, to track down his elusive older brother who has broken off from the family. Everything he hears and experiences suggests layers of danger as the past threatens to seep into the now. Isaac becomes the hapless witness, failing to understand, seeming to cause conflict, unknowingly carrying the burden of his father’s dark secret as the film descends from drama to thriller. The unnerving Kodi Smit McPhee is the teenage boy Isaac rescues from a mugging but later lets down. We remain unsure whether it is the boy or Isaac’s guilt that haunts him.
The pace of the film is gripping as the initial humour fades away and Isaac travels across Europe with as many changes of location as a Bourne film, and into a past he really should have left dead.
Sex, at first casual, becomes increasingly seedy, and then the seediest. Not averse to a bit of cottaging and spliff sharing, Isaac becomes more extreme and self-destructive. The sins of the father are embodied in the older brother who is a debauched heroin-addicted pornographer of rent boys, and perhaps the repository of the curse. Bleak and unremitting, as Isaac’s fate unfolds it does not resolve the ambiguity of whether the curse really exists or whether he has imagined it.
Intelligent and compelling, this unsettling film will haunt you long after you leave the cinema.
Read more reviews from the 56th London Film Festival here.
Watch the trailer for Dead Europe here: