Hitlerjunge Salomon (AKA: Europa Europa) (1990)
Director - Agnieszka Holland
Starring - Marco Hofschneider, Julie Delpy, and Solomon Perel
What's more uplifting than a story of a young Jewish boy lasting out the war by imitating those who want him dead? Apparently, it's that exact same story plus the lusty escapades of a hormone addled teen movie tossed in for fun. It's the lighter side of the Nazi fueled war machine!
Like I said already, as far as Jewish survival stories set during World-War II go, this one was surprisingly lusty and light. Though the main character, Salomon's, journey is a difficult one, it was oddly punctuated by sexual encounters, camaraderie with those who want him dead, and seemingly, the joys of growing up. Also, oddly enough, deep in the heart of Nazi, Germany, this young interloper manages to find a surprising number of sympathetic people who help him along the way. One or even two instances along these lines seem plausible, human nature even, but as many lucky breaks as young Solomon gets during the length of the movie skews the film into the realm of the surreal, and removes from it, some of the danger that other films such as Schindler's List, and The Pianist seem to exude from their very pores.
While that fact doesn't make it a bad film, as such, it definitely makes it unique. An oddity even. Seeing it now, through the lens of history, makes the film seem somewhat in-authentic. A farce dressed in the clothes of history. If dramatized reality has taught me anything, it's that people who are/were Nazis weren't really people, clearly they were actually just murderous machines, blindly spewing rhetoric and hate (sarcasm). I realize of course that the film is a biographical one, and tells the actual story of a very real Salomon Perel, it is just a novel thing to see a film that doesn't completely demonize Nazi's, and in many ways treats them as people too, and some of them are worth our pity.
Though it served to lessen the overall impact of the horrors of war in general, and the holocaust in particular, this general humanity that was bestowed upon the antagonists was indeed a refreshing change from the usual. Not only does our main character struggle with feelings of fear, jealousy, lust, and love, but so do the people who condemn him so, and it's not only limited to the Germans. We see the human side of the whole of eastern Europe, with realistic portraits of Poles, and Russians as well as the Germans who Salomon encounters on his path through the war.
Being a young man at the age where hormones threaten to take control of the thought processes, Salomon indulges himself quite a bit in some pretty shockingly dangerous ways, some of which threaten his safety, others of which are the only things keeping him alive. One of his amorous encounters with an instructor in the Hitler youth, has him (a Jew) being compared loudly, and often, in a sexual way to the "fuhrer" himself (the accuser of Jews). This film was never one I'd talked about, or read on during film school, so I'm not sure if I am to infer this comparison to mean that even Hitler is/was a human being, or if it was relying solely on the irony of the situation to inject humor, and a sense of heightened stakes into the situation. I like the idea that this film might have been making a bold statement, so I choose to believe that it humanizes everyone.
Don't get me wrong, at no point do I think that the actions of the Nazi party, or of Adoph Hitler deserve a pass, or even a re-evaluation. I don't. All I'm saying is that the only path forward from a wound as great as the Holocaust is acceptance and ultimately forgiveness. I was surprised to find that forgiveness in this film along side the anger, fear, joy, and sadness that every human is capable of.
So, Europa, Europa wasn't quite what I was expecting when I started it, and looking at it objectively, I would say it doesn't have as much impact as the Schindler's Lists or The Pianists, or even something as singular of purpose as the incomparable, Inglourious Basterds. Still, the tale of Salomon Perel is one that seeks to open the eyes, as well as the mind. It chooses a different formula through which to process this history, deal with it, and ultimately heal both the physical as well as psychological wounds left on the soul of a people by the holocaust. Like I said, it is not the most effective, it's not even my favorite, but it's a new take on the same old story we're used to. Not just a tale of one survivor, but of many, and that is why it made it on this list.