A fascinating docudrama that recently screened at the 63rd Sydney Film Festival from Swiss director Jan Gassman. The multiple-threaded narrative follows four youngish couples in four different European cities/countries; Tallinn/Estonia, Sevilla/Spain, Dublin/Ireland, and Thessaloniki/Greece. The camera, like a fly-on-the-wall, observes their relationships, in particular their attitudes and their intimacy. It’s a kind of loosely stylised documentary, where the people are real, and their behaviour is naturalistic, yet the film’s authenticity has a kind of fabrication that makes the narrative feel more like a weaving drama. It makes for compelling viewing.
In Tallinn, Veronika works as a podium dancer at a nightclub. She lives with Harri, and they have two young children. He has been contacted by an ex-partner and informed he has another child. They are tired, and they are stretched for money, but they love each other. In Sevilla, Karo, a student, and Juan, unemployed, are having issues. They enjoy a strong sexual union, but Juan is detached, preoccupied, and Karo suspects he is being wayward. She wants more from the relationship, but is Juan prepared for more commitment? In Dublin, Siobhan and Terry are trying to stay clean, but the desire for smack lingers, they slide down the slippery slope. Is their love a tenuous existence next to their dependence? In Thessaloniki, young Penny is having serious doubts about being shacked up with Niko, who appears to be quite a lot older than her. She isn’t feeling the same kind of love, she yearns for independence, but he wants her to stop stringing him along.
The themes of commitment and indifference permeates all of these relationship stories. Certainly Juan, Terry, and Penny, all exhibit a sense of distance from their partners, and to a lesser degree Harri. Is it directly associated with their environment, the social-political status of Europe, on the verge of a major social and economic change? It certainly feels this way, and director Gassman illustrates and punctuates this unrest, this uncertainty, with his stunning cutaways, to the rural geography, the urban landscape, the twilight hours, the dusks and dawns.
It’s a beautifully structured and shot film, and the score, composed by Library Tapes, the moniker of David Wengrenn, is an ambient delight. But one of the more memorable elements of Europe, She Loves (a curious title, as the narrative emphasis isn’t necessarily on the women) is its sexual frankness. We see all four of the couples making love, having sex, fucking. Actual sex is portrayed, but not in a pornographic way. Some scenes depict a sense of urgency, a kind of sexual reassurance, and others portray the couples’ libidos in a languid, sensual light. Combined with the surprisingly lush cinematography, considering it all appears to be shot in available light, the docudrama captures a wonderfully poetic aura. There is conflict and confrontation, but there is bonding and union also. Most importantly, not all four stories resolve. Life is a series of fragments, and Europe, She Loves, delves into the fragments of four ordinary couples who, ultimately, all want the same thing: to love and be loved.
—- Europe, She Loves film review by Bryn Tilly of cultprojections.com