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On the borders of Europe

between a film and its reconstruction

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E

uropa (1931-1932) was the first film by the author and philosopher Stefan Themerson (1910-1988) and the artist Franciszka Themerson (1907-1988). It is based on the antifascist poem Europa (1925) by Anatol Stern that he had dedicated to ‘the tragedy, the squalor, the wisdom and the decadence of Europe’.

When the Themersons moved from Warsaw to Paris in 1938, they took their films with them. On the outbreak of the Second World War, Stefan Themerson entrusted five films to the Vitfer Film laboratory in Paris, where they were later confiscated by the Nazis. The last time Europa was shown was in Poland in 1930. In 1983 it was reconstructed, drawing on some stills and photographic material, and provided with a voice-over in which the image-laden poem of Anatol Stern was read. 

In 2019 a copy of the original film was rediscovered by the Pilecki Institute of the Bundesarchief in Berlin. The silent film was given a new soundtrack with music by Lodewijk Muns. Today Europa is regarded as one of the most important films of the twentieth century European avantgarde. 

Maria Barnas compared the original film with the reconstruction, looking for images to fight Fascism. 

Stills from Europa, Themerson 

Translation On the borders of Europe from Dutch by Donald Gardner

On the borders of Europe

 

 

A standing nude was constructed 

the lower part replaced by a loaf of bread 

slit open under a new angle.

 

A sculpture of a head was devised.

Two female faces on long legs 

a motionless heart and a black surface 

of not knowing – what do you think Malevich? –

survived a long time. Can the thundering speed 

of images offer anything against the boots 

I thought I saw myself

 

– reconstructed or invented Europe –

they trample the blazing grass 

that was already flattened the boots they stomp 

splashes out of the slowly dissolving mist.

 

A boxer triumphs without sound 

the victorious fist held high 

a heart beats shrinks beats 

a dancing jellyfish pipe 

languishes clock child apple 

over man eats apple.

 

Who does the flag with blood stains belong to?

Who doesn’t the flag with blood stains belong to?

 

A high hollow sinks 

because of Fascism that can be 

reconstructed like a lost film.

 

And what will be invented this time?

 

The eyes of a man consist of pure light 

and someone cuts the apple 

someone eats the apple 

someone 

 

stands with clenched fists. 

 

Another man eats fatty meat 

is that him the Fascist that must be him 

for breakfast with bulging neck folds 

what’s he shouting who’s he shouting after?

 

Clouds megaphones shake in the rhythm 

of eternal stamping 

so as to graze stamp-shock 

in just enough frames a minute 

to show us that this life 

is a clash of order disorder 

order in the ugly mug of the man 

who gobbles down gulped up wads

news items assail the crowds – 

 

Scream back! it screams in the poet.

Everyone stand up but the poet with clenched fists 

can’t find the right tone 

he doesn’t know what his images are. 

 

A heart pulsates like a broken light bulb 

cannons soldiers barbed wire spider

body on cross yes-man 

whose are these stripes what flag 

bears the keys of a lost piano –

 

so that men like him 

and the men he wants to be 

who may be the same men

in the eyes of the self-assured 

who want to make a better world 

by taking themselves as the norm 

 

are consumed by the moment 

that the light in her eyes 

seems like love or is and the light 

that caught her meet 

 

Apples are cut on the conveyor belt.

A broad public cut from the repetition

of one person eats the apple slices.

Is that us? Where has the hand gone to

that found the core of the apple and what 

do the typewriter keys destroy.

 

There is a moment of calm and then another 

in clear outlines of a ruler a hand 

a building buildings skyscrapers 

or century centuries lifetime old age 

the heart s o s in reverse 

but a spreading branch squeezes

and bare feet run through the grass.

 

The swaying branches the leaves 

are distorted by speed 

so that pieces of apples a seismograph

and a blade of grass 

between the paving stones pushes

the cobbles aside

to let a tree grow.

 

The trees fall over. 

The cities fall.

Mouths forced open scream 

fall in a falling silence 

fleeing feet 

legs dynamite beautiful eyes gaze love 

city falls the body hesitates.

 

Is it enough that we are 

stammering witnesses of this Europe

what do you still mean 

if image after image I am 

persuaded that watching 

eating an apple

that looks like a host 

like the body 

of someone with good intentions

makes complicit with war 

even if you turn off the tv.

 

And the fleeing who die unnumbered 

forced back shot back 

allowed because seen 

does this cross your borders Europe 

and nobody to reconstruct them.

 

That I doubt if I must be we 

and what remains of us 

if we can’t remember 

what images we needed 

to fight against what silenced us 

if we don’t know what images 

we must choose now.

 

And the reconstruction will take its time 

the reconstruction operates 

in a vacuum the reconstruction

constructs while we are looking 

for the right word.

 

Eyes look upward 

a sky full of panic 

falls hurtling in a gut 

 

a show diver takes flight. 

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