On the borders of Europe
between a film and its reconstruction
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
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
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.