The second decade of the Twentieth Century was a turbulent, exciting period and a time of huge scientific, social, political and economic change. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated Sarajevo. This would provide the catalyst for the culmination of decades of militarism, sparking the outbreak of World War I. Davis Simanis film debut, The Year Before the War, surveys Europe as a reckoning approaches.

Hans (Petr Buchta) works as a doorman at a hotel in Riga when he’s mistaken for the mysterious Petr and condemned as a terrorist. After fleeing to Switzerland, he meets the strange and elusive Alma (Inga Salina) in a sanatorium. He begins a love affair with the jet-setting spy as his travels take him to Prague, Paris, Vienna and London, amongst other places. Meeting a range of extraordinary and unfortunate people along the way.

The Year Before the War is a fascinating journey through pre-war European history and descent of one man, or many people, into madness. Along the way, Simanis introduces us to the likes of Trotsky, Freud, Wittgenstein and Lenin on his rollercoaster ride across early twentieth century Europe. Originally filmed in colour, Andrejs Rudzats’ haunting black and white images do a great job of grounding it in the epoch. Although it’s rather unfocused, The Year Before the War is an audacious historical fantasy.

The Year Before the War screens at International Film Festival Rotterdam.