Europa Europa (Hitlerjunge Salomon) (1990)
Director: Agnieszka Holland
If the story of Europa Europa was not based on a real-life account, you would refuse to suspend your disbelief; indeed, even having seen the film I am flabbergasted that this really happened to someone. It has the feel of an 18th century picaresque novel a la Fielding's Tom Jones; a young man getting by in a corrupt world, with episodes of comedy, and drama. We follow Solomon Perel, a German Jew, as he is separated from his family, ends up in a Russian communist orphanage, the German army, and then the Hitler Youth Academy. And he does all this while bearing the signs of his Jewishness: a circumcised penis.
Holland manages to get the balance of comedy and tragedy right for the most part, though the death of Solly's sister early on felt almost passed over for the humour of Solly leaping naked out of a window. Marco Hofschneider's performance is very good; he moves from a naivety that helps him survive, but deny his heritage, to realising what awful fate he has escaped.
This is a war film unlike many war films, though it does have touches of Menzel's Closely Watched Trains. I like Holland as a director, though this is only the second film of her's I have seen (the other is The Secret Garden). This film could easily have had too much comedy, or too much tragedy, but she gets the majority of the emotional pitch right, with many moments of bittersweet connection amongst the ridiculousness of war.