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By Daniel Lammin
28th October 2012

Acclaimed Australian novelist Christos Tsiolkas has seen a number of successful film adaptations of his work. His first novel, 'Loaded', received a blistering adaptation with 'Head On' (1998), directed by Ana Kokkinos, and his internationally acclaimed 'The Slap' was adapted into a superb mini-series last year by the ABC. His work balances the concerns of being gay and of immigrant descent in Australia, and his explicit, almost gothic imagery lends itself beautifully to film. This year sees another of his most beloved novels, 'Dead Europe', brought to the screen, featuring an impressive cast and a talented creative team. With the tremendous success of Tsiolkas’ work in the past, director Tony Krawitz has much expected of him and his film.

Isaac (Ewen Leslie) is a successful photographer of Greek descent. Wanting to connect with his heritage, he books his tickets for his first trip to Greece. No member of his family has ever returned to Greece, his parents implying some dark secret hidden there. After the sudden death of his father Vassily (William Zappa), Isaac resolves to return his father's ashes to his village. However, the deeper he digs into his fathers past, the darker the discoveries become, leading him on a trip across Europe and into the wartime past of the continent. Central to this journey is a boy, Josef (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who somehow seems to be connected with Vassily.


As expected, 'Dead Europe' is a handsomely made film, sitting comfortably next to the visual style of 'Animal Kingdom' (2010) and 'Snowtown' (2011). Krawitz finds himself shooting in some of the most beautiful cities in Europe, but you wouldn’t know it. He wisely chooses to explore the underbellies of these cities, the grime and dirt that we quickly begin to associate with Vassily’s secret. Visually, 'Dead Europe' is striking and distinct, and another example of the tremendous talent working in Australian film. The screenplay by Louise Fox is also of note, however this is where the film starts to unravel. At 84 minutes, the film feels criminally short, and without having read the book myself, there is definitely a sense that much of the narrative has either been cut, or there is detail that must not have been translatable to film. Early sections of Isaac’s trip to Greece seem to leave the central narrative behind, and instead the film pursues Isaac’s sexual and drug-induced experiences. The final act is easily the strongest, when his search for the truth about Vassily reaches its climax, but by that point the film has meandered and become so lost in aesthetic detail that you find yourself unaffected by the revelations. It’s a pity, as there is something sinister and uncomfortable about 'Dead Europe' that never seems to be explored as far as it could be.

'Dead Europe' is striking and distinct, and another example of the tremendous talent working in Australian film.

The performances are generally top notch, though like the narrative, always prevented from really taking off. Ewen Leslie, one of our most acclaimed stage actors, does seem a little at sea on screen, but there is a comfortable intensity to him that makes him very watchable. Kodi Smit-McPhee is also very good, though again, isn’t given a lot to do. Marton Csokas is terrific as Isaac’s brother Nico, a repulsive individual steeped in drugs and pornography, crippled by the weight of his fathers crimes. Csokas is always arresting to watch, and this is another example of his considerable talent. Also of note is William Zappa as Vassily, who, even though only on screen for five minutes, leaves a lasting impression with a haunted and visceral performance.

Without having read the book, it’s hard to say whether 'Dead Europe' is an unsatisfactory adaptation of the novel, or the best attempt to film a book unsuitable for film. It looks handsome, and features some worthy performances, but it never goes far enough to be wholly satisfying. Isaac’s journey to reconcile the sins of his father is one we could have connected with, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case here. It isn’t the worst way to spend an hour and a half, but you might not walk out feeling particularly fulfilled.

RELEASE DATE: 01/11/2012
RUN TIME: 1h 24m
CAST: Ewen Leslie
Marton Csokas
Kodi Smit-Mcphee
Igal Naor
DIRECTOR: Tony Krawitz
WRITER: Louise Fox
Emile Sherman
Iain Canning
SCORE: Jed Kurzel
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