Review: Princesse Europe
- VENICE 2020: Following in the wake of Bernard-Henri Levy’s theatre tour, Camille Lotteau goes off on a tangent to deliver an abundant, amusing and intelligent documentary about the concept and the reality of Europe
Whether you’re a fan of Bernard-Henri Levy’s extremely high-profile activism or not, there’s no denying the truth behind the concerns he expresses in his play Looking for Europe, namely the surge in nationalism across the Old Continent and the vote-catching insistence on a loss of identity that’s threatening European integrity. It’s through this particular door that Camille Lotteau approaches the topic of his documentary Princesse Europe [+see also:
film profile], which was unveiled in a Special Screening at the 77th Venice Film Festival.
Travelling across the Old Continent between March and May 2019 in the wake of the theatre tour embarked upon by the vigorous and committed philosopher, the filmmaker very soon sneaks a few shortcuts, slightly shifting his focus away from the character at the heart of his film and broadening his horizon of thought towards the everyday man in the street. It’s a sidestep buoyed by a gentle irony which allows the director to swerve the hagiography trap and instead sign his name to a fun and highly personal work, casting a fragmented eye across the mosaic of Europe and holding a mirror up to the great distance that separates the views from above from those from below; those of the elite from those of the people.
On one side of the coin, we find Bernard-Henri Levy "who permanently plays himself", striding across theatre stages alone, readying himself behind the scenes, scrapping with ideological adversaries on TV shows, and always managing to meet government heads and members of the opposition in the countries he passes through so as to share his idea of Europe and to try to convince them to change their positions. To this effect, we come across Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babis, the Ukraine’s Petro Porochenko and even France’s Emmanuel Macron, replete with their own political style and posturing (including the rather enigmatic phrase uttered by the French President, "once the progressives become patricians, we’re finished"). It’s a world of "great men" which Camille Lotteau observes through half-open doors, adding little touches of much-needed humour (never insistent or fierce, but not deluded either) to a portrait of Europe as seen from above.
On the flip side, the director opens up the floor to a variety of anonymous voices offering, in passing, their vision of Europe, in particular taxi drivers, randomly encountered girls (because let’s not forget we’re looking for princesses of Europe) and a yellow-vested protester friend. It’s a counterpoint that Lotteau pieces together in seemingly disordered fashion (in an intentionally chaotic assembly, enhanced by a commentary full of self-deprecation, for example: "I wanted to do it but we don’t have time", "what if I took this sequence… no, this one"), but which ultimately allows for the emergence of a clear and fundamental idea: we are Europe.
Add to this a bit of Greek mythology, history (the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Balkans War and events in Sarajevo, of course), issues affecting migrants and Kurds, references to Heraclitus, Descartes, Husserl, Byron, Pasolini, Joyce and also Kafka, contributions including that of Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk, geographical maps, philosophical debates on nature and metaphysics, the insertion of a few items of modern-day news and a great many meaningful overlaps, and you’ll still only have a very basic idea of the extreme, almost archaeological richness of this entertaining and intelligent documentary. Dressed up as a catch-all, seemingly focused on one emblematic man, the film manages to slip away from its protagonist to investigate the mysteries of Europe, a "world which goes beyond nations".
(Translated from French)
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