The Netherlands

Vox Populi

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Eddy Terstall :: The Netherlands :: 2008 :: 1h30

A politician living a politically and sexually promiscuous life, is confronted with the opinions of the working class when his daughter starts seeing a young lower class man. The politician befriends the in laws, in so far as their differences allow them to, and he soaks up the popular opinions of the redneck father. As time goes by, the politician starts to integrate the mans opinions more and more into his public discourse.

This is the third entry of a trilogy about Dutch society, after Simon (2004) and Sextet (2007). The first portrayed liberal society at its peak, the second discussed sex within that society as an expression of liberty, and this latest installment -and the most political- seems to proclaim its decline. There is some optimism within the latest vision, but I still left the film with a negative overall view with respects to the success of the “multi-cultural society” as seen by Terstall, with his unsophisticated opportunists as political leaders. The message seems to be that politicians should listen more to the lower class, although they should do so “intelligently”. (Which is as obvious as it is contradictory.)

This is quite a curious film. The Netherlands seem to be (still) going through a turbulent period,  politically, since the murders of the politician Pim Fortijn and the film director Theo van Gogh, both by minority radicals. The clash between the conservative muslims and the liberal atheists rages on throughout the movie, and the director’s support of the Dutch labour party seems to be a direct link between the movie and real life. In the end, we are treated to a moralizing political speech, as if the movie did not have enough of them, exposing common sense in terms general enough to make them useless. Unless you are writing a thesis on contemporary Holland, I think the movie could easily be missed. The intentions are perhaps good, but the result feels like a long political TV message with a xenophobic tone and little content. Although, as opposed to the real thing, this movie has humour going for it…




Alex van Warmerdam :: The Netherlands :: 2006 :: 1h37

Edgar (Alex van Warmerdam) is an ageing waiter with a life as empty as the spacious highway restaurant in which he works. His mistress sits at a table hoping to get some attention from him in a last desperate attempt to rescue their sinking relationship. Some guests take advantage Edgar’s serving position to humiliate him in a spectacle of absurdity. Edgar is at the bottom, and sees only one way out – to complain to the writer of the story to get better lines or at least a shimmer of happiness in his life.

This is a peculiar piece of film. A character complaining to the writer about the misery in his life is one thing, but the side characters come along as well, and the writer’s girlfriend who interferes with their fate as well… Nothing good can come out of this. Edgar not only lives his misery but realises that the creator of his fate is pushing him through the absurdity on purpose. When Edgar complains about his submissive suffering, all the writer can do to justify himself is telling Edgar that he must suffer. When Edgar protests, the writer retorts that he knows what he has in store for Edgar, as if there is some higher purpose for Edgar’s suffering. But that is bluff. The writer does not know where he is going with his story and merely sends Edgar off on a chase from misery to surreal.

The pace of the movie is upbeat is the first half, but when we get a key scene in the thriller aspect of it, the acquisition of a weapon, the movie grinds down to a halt! Edgar walks into a bashed-up curiosities cabinet, asks for the weapon, to which the owner, an old man dressed up as a woman, proceeds to get it down and wrap it up with a painfully slow imprecision. The audience can nail-bitingly complain all they like, but they will have to wait till he is finished for Edgar to get out of there to solve his problems in the last leg of the story. When you submit to the will of the director of the film you too have to sit through the lot, just like Edgar and the other characters.

As the movie does not really go anywhere, as far as the story is concerned, it is tempting to dismiss the entire film, despite its originality. We see the writer, although he is just a character in the film, and can not help but curse his incompetence at creating an incoherent, illogical story. But at the same time, it is that same incompetent writer which put the brilliant dry humoured dialogues into the script which had the audience laughing out loud. Still clearly one of the most original directors in European cinema today, do not miss out on him, but if you have not seen any of his work yet, start with Little Tony or The Northerners, leaving this one for later.


Eddy Terstall :: The Netherlands :: 2007 :: 1h36

Set up as a relay of consecutive not-too-serious stories about sex. It is the second part (after Simon) of a trilogy looking at life in contemporary Dutch society. The fundamental questions treated: Can you actually listen to what a beautiful girl is saying? Do you not have the right to be a little discriminated if you are a Lesbian couple? If you fall in love with someone who is married, does your love or their commitment take the upper hand? As I am sure you understand, comedy is the way here, and it should be judged on its humour and power to hold our attention. Sextet has some of both, with some creative merit in surprising places.

Sextet is advertised as a cheap sex movie (see the website), which is grossly inaccurate. The movie is simple, funny and gives you some insight into life in the Netherlands, wrapped up in a package with a lot of pretty girls. It is only the latter, with some gentle nudity thrown in, which is supposed to justify the marketing approach. Although, that could also have been to counter some criticism the director apparently had been getting… “What do you mean, too many breasts in my movies? I would rather have a pair of breasts against my head than a gun.” (VPRO Gids, 2004) Having read that, you may now be surprised to find that there is actually relatively little nudity in it.
But it is not a movie about nudity, but one about sex. We see a whole range of different relationships with the questions which pre-occupy the characters. It is clearly unpretentious amusement, which thankfully never falls into an emotional rant. Some of the stories are too simple (man falls in love with married girl) and some are too outrageous (woman finds lover in bed with another and easily lets it go) but as a whole it is a pleasant ride. Dutch society is lightly analyzed, opening with: “the only people who still marry are gays” and as Holland is slowly but surely becoming atheist: “religion is often accompanied by sexual obsession, so where does that leave us?” And on that note, we are taken from story to story.

Humorous quotes aside, there are plenty of changes of visual style to keep you interested (black and white to colour to animation) and even the story relay itself is presented as a movie in the movie by a frustrated teacher at a Belgian film academy. This trick, together with the negative comments from the film academy teacher about the movie, lighten your critical stand to the movie. Although it is not a masterpiece and the visual switches are seemingly random, you can take the whole mess casually. And to help reduce your criticism, it should probably best be watched late at night.



Eddy Terstall :: The Netherlands :: 2004 :: 1h42

Through an awkward accident, Camiel (Marcel Hensema) meets Simon (Cees Geel). Camiel is an intelligent, shy, insecure, gay student studying to become a dentist. Simon is close to his opposite: a true Amsterdam mythical hero – down-to-earth, liberal, dry humoured seducer (“Couldn’t you just instantly turn into a naked chick?”) who owns two cafés and lives in the Dutch paradox – he’s in the semi-legal business of running a hash home delivery service. Both are true products of Dutch society, as it is dreamed to be, with their multilingual, easy, matter-of-fact approach to life. But the film is mostly about Simon. Well, about Camiel looking Simon, fascinated.

So what is it about Simon that so fascinates Camiel? To a certain extent, Camiel is an outsider, he is just someone who walks the streets. He is not extraordinary in any sense. Neither his love life, nor his profession can help him up, nor does he play an instrument or have any hidden talent. When he meets Simon, it seems as if Simon has his whole life organised around himself, to be able to live his life fully. He is surrounded by his oddball friends and has a loving family (in Thailand!). And that with a forgiving smile which allows him to boyishly do as he pleases.

The second half of the movie is darker than the first, when the weight on the looming tragedy starts to be felt (Simon’s approaching death). The second half of the film is more emotional, building on the characters and relationships of the first half. Notice the remarkable difference in the treatment of the subject with Les Invasions Barbares, of death, friendship, love, sex and society. Perhaps the last is most remarkable, because somewhere Simon is the society. There is no clash with an outer world which is different to him – because the difference between the individuals is what makes up the society in which he lives. Similarly there is no generational gap either, Simon’s children will make something out of their lives as he did with his, nothing fundamental has changed. It is Western society at its (brief?) peak.

If there is any weakness in the film, then it would have to be Simon’s interest in Camiel, the reasons of which could have been more explicit (perhaps his stability, or his intelligence?). None the less, the audience takes on the role of Camiel, and is taken along into Simon’s world. A world which is a rare glimpse into the liberal post-modern society which is (was?) The Netherlands. Camiel will not be the only one leaving impressed.

Black Book


Paul Verhoeven :: Netherlands / Belgium / UK / Germany :: 2006 :: 2h25

The Dutch Jewish singer Rachel (Carice van Houten) has to flee Nazi troops in The Hague in 1945, but their escape boat is intercepted and her entire family shot dead and robbed. After her narrow escape, she joins the Dutch resistance under the name Ellis. Through the chaos and immorality of occupation, the brave Ellis bizarrely enough falls in love with an SS officer.

A curious and depressing story of a very strong willed -and beautiful- woman, who in the face of the horrors which History has flung into her face, tries all she can to end the tyranny, even after she has lost everything but her life. The movie develops slowly and realistically, aggravating the impact. An image of people, uniformed or not, caught up in a violent spiral of desperation who try to save themselves, or enrich themselves with the impunity of war. Not a flattering picture of mankind, but a reminder that war generally does not bring out the best in us (despite some noble heroics), should anybody have missed out on the last 50 years of war cinema.

It is unfortunate that such a talented (albeit mainstream) director resorts to making a World War Two movie on his return to Europe after all those years in exile on the other side of the Atlantic. It would have been a pleasant surprise to have made a science fiction movie or something at least contemporary set in The Hague, as the movie does not have much to add to all the other war movies which have been produced in The Netherlands over the years. Verhouven could have used his reputation to de-stigmatize our continent as one which lives in the past and has not done anything since WWII. Maybe next time, if Verhouven sticks around.


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Nanouk Leopold :: The Netherlands :: 2005 :: 1h24

A young woman finds her colleague dead after a suicide on their business trip, realizing it could have been her. The shock provokes a self-analysis of her own life living in her Scandinavian-type house outside the city with her husband and son, to see if she can consider herself happy, alive and valued. What starts out as slow and unclear, unravels itself as the movie progresses, and lingers after it is over. The photography encourages you to see the world through her eyes, which is the core of the means, as very few words are spoken. Her questioning herself – the honesty of her relationship(s) and her importance to those around her- takes her away from the very thing she is observing, namely her own life. A recital which hinges mostly on whether or not you can read into her mind, as the unspoken leaves room for projection. By all means an impressive and life-changing exercise.