Directed for German and French television by Polish filmmaker Stanislaw Mucha, the film starts in Germany and moves through Austria, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine. It is a cosmopolitan work, to be sure, but it’s also a film that shows how culturally divided Europe remains.
Indeed, part of what Mucha seems to be up to is showing how the rhetoric of a borderless Europe does not necessarily reflect the continental reality. Sequences in Slovakia feature people speaking of Europe in ominous terms; it’s often not clear if they consider themselves European at all, even though they also lay claim to the ever-elusive geographical centre of the continent. Much the same is true of the interview subjects in Lithuania and Ukraine. As Mucha moves east he finds more and more agitation and odd flashes of anger. Oddly, he also finds Swiss people; he encounters some Swiss in Germany, and then a large pack of them in Ukraine, and at the end of the film, he meets a young Swiss couple in Germany.
The Centre makes a welcome contribution to the visualisation of European identity. Using a slow, somewhat meandering style, Mucha gives us an excellent view of the sheer size of the European landscape (sequences in new countries open with a title giving the distance and direction that the jump represents: “Southwest, 1000 kilometres,” etc.), not to mention the polyglot nature of the continent. But he also gives his viewers a sense of the possibilities and pitfalls that this moment in European history represents. He meets a group in Slovakia who describe themselves as neither Euro-sceptics nor Euro-promoters, but Euro-realists. This probably described Mucha, as well, and describes all those who seek to understand the sheer unmanageability of this huge continent. In Ukraine, a man sleeping beside the road wakes up and lights up a cigarette; he tells Mucha that the tobacco comes from Belarus. This is just as much part of Europe as the adventurous and omnipresent Swiss travellers: someone who is economically embattled, deeply rooted and yet also regionally integrated. How can a region so complex, so contradictory be accurately measured or divided into neat parts like centre or periphery? Mucha wants us to realise the impossibility of answering that question and wants to return that sense of impossibility – and the creative tension that comes along with it – to the centre of European identity.