Of the select number of serious contemporary directors whose work is scrutinized in the international press, Lars von Trier (b. 1956) is one of the most polarizing. While even his detractors will concede that he possesses a virtuoso's command of cinematic technique, it's hard to make a case for his subtlety. Von Trier is given to creating emotionally blistering movies that pirouette around an idealist who is obliterated by a hostile environment. Such is the premise on which his 1991 cinematic nocturne, Europa, rests. Purposefully intended to be one of the Danish director's most accessible movies, Europa tells the story of Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr), a young American of Germanic heritage who, in October 1945, travels to Germany to take up a position as a sleeping-car conductor on a train. Proud of the fact that he refused to take sides during the war, he represents himself as a conciliatory figure who wishes to further the restoration of German-American relations. Unlike von Trier's more harrowing movies, like Breaking the Waves, Europa contains a generous amount of levity, which helps because the film's symbols do come on strong, particularly in one scene that juxtaposes sex and death. Nonetheless, von Trier's use of the sleeping-car as a metaphor for Europe's desire to whitewash its recent past remains piquant. So is the film's use of meticulously paired foreground and background shots to produce collages as mesmerizing as nearly anything captured on celluloid.

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.