A surveillance crew in England follows some young men hanging around a public square. German cops train for worst-case scenarios and crowd-control situations with computer-generated backdrops. Porn starlets in Prague vamp for video cameras broadcasting across the Internet and, by extension, seduce millions of consumers worldwide. Hundreds of beer lovers drink themselves silly in a vast Munich biergarten; later, viewers get a peek at the working-class folks who wash those customers’ dishes, as well as a glimpse at the wage slaves who clean out airport restrooms. A smiling counselor will tell a gentleman from Lagos that, as an illegal alien, even those jobs won’t be available to him; meanwhile, immigrants are hassled by Italian policemen. Somewhere far away—or perhaps very, very near—to where one of these things is occurring, politicians debate the situation in Afghanistan.
Do all of these vignettes seem random? They won’t after you’ve seen Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s free-form look at Europe after hours, in which these images of security, technology run amok and multiculturalism bump up against some serious class issues. Anyone who’s seen the documentarian’s previous works, like Our Daily Bread (2005), knows that his narrationless mosaics derive their power from the cumulative effect of one disparate scenario informing another, but his look at an Old World continent reeling from the New World values is both thrilling and damning. It may end at a rave in the Netherlands, but the message is still that Nero fiddles as Rome burns.
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