I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie which left me feeling so inspired and so deflated at once. But as I walked out of the Colosseum cinema in Berlin last week, during the Berlinale International Film Festival, I was at once angry and excited, sad, mad and motivated.
Europe, She Loves is the newest film by documentarian Jan Gassmann. This real-world documentary features the stories of four different couples from four different fringes of Europe: Siobhan and Terry in Dublin want to live without drugs; in Tallinn, Veronika wants Harri to get on better with her son Artur; in Thessaloniki, Penny wants to move to Italy for work, leaving behind the older Niko, and in Seville, newly in love Juan and Caro live day-by-day without much worry for the future.
Each couple gets about 20 minutes screen-time, including their most intimate moments right up to sex and drugs. It’s a poignant documentary film about the troubles we face in Europe today—hopelessness, financial insecurity and a life we have to live day-by-day.
In a question-and-answer session following a screening during the Berlinale, Gassmann explained more about the film’s evolution. Research for the film included 20 couples across Europe and was eventually cut down to five (a couple from Zagreb was removed just before the premiere). The film purposefully features cities that aren’t already easily identifiable on film and was filmed during a 25,000 kilometer trip across Europe, from city to city. The team specifically sought out couples in lower income brackets, ones already struggling with some of life’s many problems. They spent 10 days in each city filming.
But, from hearing the team speak at the Berlinale, it was apparent that the film crew learned much more than they were expecting. While sex was always going to be a part of the film (and that was clear to the couples before agreeing to be filmed), drug use was a surprise. Drugs weren’t necessarily recognized to be a symbol of this generation, but during filming and from the final edit, it’s pretty apparent that drugs are definitely a part of this generation in Europe.
While I’m not European, I saw so much of what afflicts me and my generation today in this movie. This movie is very subjective and I think each individual would see something different in it—a point to pick up on, something you could relate to. For me, the movie was about my world, my Europe: jobs, drugs, sex, relationships, departures, college. The future, really.
We live in a harsh world right now. Evident by a million things on the news: refugees, lost jobs, economic crises, Brexit. Interspersed between scenes were recorded news segments set over images of Europe: abandoned places, the Costa Concordia sinking and other news highlights and tragedies. Using hundreds of hours of newsreels, the soundscape was masterfully edited down to a beautiful (but tragic) sound of Europe. This movie shows us a real glimpse of Europe: of the drugs and the sex, of the hope and the melancholy.
I particularly enjoyed that each couple was split between one another. We moved from Seville to Talinn to Thessaloniki, back to Seville and then Dublin and then Greece again. It was heart-wrenching to watch these couples share similar experiences, similar frustrations, but also see that things were different. Europe is such a complicated idea, and this movie, Europe, She Loves, miraculously pulls the continent together in a way that leaves you feeling both sad and happy. There’s no real ending. These are people’s lives and life is always moving forward—no matter what’s happening to the world around us.