The reality of Tony Krawitz’s Dead Europe

22 November, 2012 by Candace Wise

Tony Krawitz’s psychological thriller Dead Europe follows the plight of a young man who, disturbed by revelations of his family’s sinister past, attempts to seek solace in a world of random sex and drugs.
It is also a film which captures authentic portrayals of the forgotten peoples of contemporary Europe.
Keen to ensure their stories were told, Krawitz actually went in search for people he thought would resonate well in the film, and asked for their permission to be included.
The result, as Krawitz explains, is a mirror effect between audience and main character Isaac. Just as Isaac is “not sure what’s real and what’s not,” the audience also questions, “Is that an actor or not? Is that a real location or not?”

Based on the novel by Christos Tsiolkas, Dead Europe is a mystery set on the turbulent streets of contemporary Europe. The film follows Isaac who – while taking his deceased father’s ashes from Australia to Greece – comes to learn that something sinister happened in his family’s past involving a young Jewish boy.


Krawitz’s own grandparents were, themselves, Jews who emigrated to South Africa from Germany. He finds Europe to be a fascinating and contradictory place.
“I grew up in Apartheid South Africa where Jews were considered white people profiting from a really unjust society. Those things I think about a lot and making the film has just allowed me to delve deeper into that to tell a story.”

Christos Tsiolkas’ novel did not explicitly state that it was focused on the émigré or illegals of Europe but it was important to Krawitz to present the stories of the Romani gypsies and refugees he met.

Dead Europe was cast and location scouted over six months and shot over eight weeks in Sydney, Greece, Paris and finally, Budapest.
Fortunately for Krawitz, he was based in Germany for six months while his wife, Cate Shortland, worked on her film Lore. This had the advantage of Krawitz being able to go location scouting and discover places that the locals didn’t even know about.

“Just on a really simple point I thought Athens would have those really high rise (apartment buildings), where Muslims might be living for example…We did find them. (They were) actually in the centre of Athens – in the city. They were extraordinary. It’s a no-go area.”

Despite being a ‘no-go’ area, the crew was brave enough to shoot a major scene there, in which the protagonist Isaac first meets the ghost of the Jewish boy. Actual residents take on some of the roles in the scene.

In order to take this realist, documentary–style approach, the film had a small core Australian crew of ten people who relied on different local crews in each country.
Ewen Leslie, who played Isaac, was the only actor who traveled everywhere with the crew. This system meant that the crews would be capable of responding to whatever situations arose on the day, which was essential given the riots taking place through Greece at the time. Krawitz was eager to include some actual footage in the film despite rumours of journalists and film crews being targeted by youths.
Of the danger involved, Krawitz says, “It was a calculated risk” that kept their adrenalin levels high. The scene of the protest that ended up in the film apparently looks a lot more dangerous than it was.

The actors within the film were also challenged to improvise and go off the script. Given the multiple locations, there was not much opportunity to rehearse apart from Skype.
Communicating with the different crews in each country was easier than Krawitz thought it would be. The Greeks were similar to the Aussies. There was only a small French crew. What Krawitz found most entertaining was the Hungarian crew’s appropriation of a 1960s communist bus as a break room.

“When things were hard it was always good to retreat (to the bus),” he says.

Krawitz admits to having being anxious at times during the shoot and getting creative blocks. However, producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning (The King’s Speech) and Liz Watts (Animal Kingdom) had faith in his vision and view on cinema.
As Krawitz stated in a Director’s Note in June 2012:

“Cinema is a window on the world and what it shows us is not always pretty.”

Dead Europe hit cinemas on November 15.

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