November 2012

Arts & Letters

‘Dead Europe’ by Tony Krawitz (director)

By Catherine Ford

When Greek-Australian photographer Isaac Raftis, the protagonist in Tony Krawitz’s adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ novel, announces a trip to Europe to train a lens on his family’s long-abandoned homeland, he’s submitted to hostile testing. What’s the Greek, his father demands, for “eye”, “nose”, “mouth”? When Isaac slips up on the word for “hair”, it seems portentous: he’s headed for an ugly initiation into the Old World.

Played by Ewen Leslie – not always convincing here as a questing Greek, but great as a liberal with an eye out for cock – Isaac is a loving young man, but his father, Vassily (William Zappa), has left his mark. A postwar migrant to Sydney, Vassily dies suddenly, in the same way he’s lived: violently, with so much left unexplained.

Intent on good deeds, Isaac takes his father’s ashes “home”. Like some evil genie released, Vassily’s bone dust, shaken loose over a mountain gorge behind Athens with all the ceremony one might bring to the emptying of a vacuum cleaner, causes nothing but horror and suffering for the son. When garlic, an evil-eye amulet and a crucifix are pushed on him by relatives, Isaac, despite his robust Australian agnosticism, is brought undone by paranoia, and what seems to be an intergenerational curse.

Returning members of a diaspora certainly tread a difficult road and Dead Europe, when it approaches clarity on that subject, looks exciting and feels promising. Isaac’s passage into his father’s past winds not only through Athens, Paris and Budapest – physical places with reassuringly recognisable landmarks – but also more opaque, feverish scenarios: a Jewish-run child-porn racket hosted in a Hungarian nightclub dungeon; a middle-class Parisian apartment in which a polite dinner party devolves into grotesque physical abuse; spacey encounters with a teenage refugee (Kodi Smit-McPhee), fleeing we know not what.

Dead Europe’s gruelling travelogue riffs on Europe’s anti-Semitic history, Islamophobia, human trafficking, the brutal treatment of postcolonial immigrant populations – complex enough matters as discrete concerns but which, patched together, resemble an ill-fitting jigsaw.

More’s the pity, because there’s an early scene that is pure class. In an Athens lounge-room, Isaac, fidgeting on a couch, casually fields questions from his wealthy, urbane cousins about life as a gay Australian. “Do you have a boyfriend?” a young Athenian asks. “No, I just have lots of random sex with strangers,” Isaac replies matter-of-factly. The scene is moodily expressive, aerated with wit, dramatically alive. It shows how brilliantly attuned Krawitz can be, and how intuitive and gutsy these actors are when the script relaxes its sordid, polemical obligations.

Catherine Ford

Catherine Ford is a freelance journalist. Her books include NYC and Dirt.

'Dead Europe'by Tony Krawitz (director). In limited release.
November 2012

November 2012

From the front page

Pub Test: Bad News for Turnbull

Media moguls did not knife the PM, his party did

Paul Feig’s sophisticated ‘A Simple Favour’

This camp study of sociopathy is far from simple

Image of Ancestral Spirit Beings Collecting Honey, 1985-87

‘John Mawurndjul: I Am the Old and the New’ at the MCA, Sydney

The celebrated bark painter’s ethos guides this retrospective exhibition

In The Big House

The quintessential American cultural experience is still college football

In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Vida Goldstein & Theodore Roosevelt

Jean Sibelius in Vienna, late 1880s. © Bettmann/Corbis

Who Stopped the Music

How Jean Sibelius ran out of notes

Bill Henson, 'Untitled', 2009/2010. Image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

The Vagina Dialogues: Do women really want less sex than men?

'On Warne', Gideon Haigh, Hamish Hamilton; $35.00

‘On Warne’ by Gideon Haigh

More in Arts & Letters

Image of Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein: show tunes and symphonies

Centenary celebrations highlight the composer’s broad ambitions and appeal

Still from Leave No Trace

The hermitic world of Debra Granik’s ‘Leave No Trace’

The ‘Winter’s Bone’ director takes her exploration of family ties off the grid

Image of Low

Low’s ‘Double Negative’: studies in slow transformation

Twelve albums in, the Minnesota three-piece can still surprise in their unique way

Covers of Motherhood and Mothers

To have or not to have: Sheila Heti’s ‘Motherhood’ and Jacqueline Rose’s ‘Mothers’

Heti’s novel asks if a woman should have a child; Rose’s nonfiction considers how society treats her if she does

More in Film

Still from Leave No Trace

The hermitic world of Debra Granik’s ‘Leave No Trace’

The ‘Winter’s Bone’ director takes her exploration of family ties off the grid

Still from Brothers’ Nest

Dirty work in Clayton Jacobson’s ‘Brothers’ Nest’

The filmmakers behind ‘Kenny’ take a darker turn

The elevated horror of Ari Aster’s ‘Hereditary’

This debut feature will test the mettle of even the most hardened genre fans

Still from Unsane

Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Unsane’

The prolific director hits his own limits with this experiment in technology

Read on

Paul Feig’s sophisticated ‘A Simple Favour’

This camp study of sociopathy is far from simple

Image of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Portrait of Joseph Roulin’

‘MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art’

An eye candy-laden, educational treasure hunt of an exhibition

Image of Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton

Turnbull fires back

Unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull never promised ‘no wrecking’

Image from ‘In Fabric’

Toronto International Film Festival 2018 (part one)

A British outlier and a British newcomer are among the stand-outs in the first part of the festival