Tag Archives: Dutch

CAPSULE: OBSESSIONS (1969)

DIRECTED BY: Pim de la Parra

FEATURING: Dieter Geissler, Alexandra Stewart, Tom Van Beek,  Donald Jones

PLOT: A carefree medical student’s life is thrown into disarray when a painting falls from his wall, creating a peep-hole to the neighboring apartment where he witnesses a world of LSD-fueled rape and murder.

Still from Obsessions (1969)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The oft-hyphenated phrase, “by-the-numbers”, springs to mind when thinking of this picture. Trying to be a ian thriller, a drug morality tale, and (perhaps) a soft-core pornographic movie, Obsessions fails on all counts—with the only weird thing being that somehow let his name be associated with it.

COMMENTS: There is unfortunately little useful to say about this mish-mash of a Dutch film. The press release and DVD blurb hype it up as best they can, going so far to claim that Obsessions helped to jumpstart “auteur cinema in Holland.” That may well be true, but that’s something better explored by a film scholar (that is, some other film scholar). As it stands, all by itself, on its own, as a movie, it stands… kind of wobbly. Thinking back on it now, the only clever bit occurred during the plot setup in the opening credits.

A heavy, framed picture of a modified Van Gogh portrait (with super-imposed razor poking at the poor man’s ear) falls from the thin wall of Nils Janssen’s apartment, bringing with it a hunk of plaster and leaving behind a perfectly-sized peep-hole. Through this new portal, Nils (Dieter Geissler), an affable medical student, sees and hears strange doings across the way, finding that it’s not all scooters, cognac, and medical school in his trendy downtown world. His improbably attractive girlfriend Marina (Alexandra Stewart), a journalist for a fashion magazine with a sideline in pop-news, joins in his… “obsession” …and the two try to unravel a bizarre crime spree involving LSD, a series of addled young women, a fat drug-dealer with a lazy eye, a con posing as a US Army officer, and a masseuse who plies her trade with her feet. Before you can say “tight slacks,” things go south when the criminals discover they’re being spied upon.

Had this rambling plot been in the service of a pornographic endeavor (something the Netherlands didn’t shy away from in the 1960s), I’d feel more sympathetic to it. The amateurism of the acting, staging, and dialogue (not sure how involved Scorsese was in the writing; he was in his mid-20s at the time and only in town for another project) all smacks of high quality smut or low quality drama. For better or (more so) worse, Obsessions is the latter–and all the Hitchcock references and “gee-whiz!” camera tricks can’t change the fact that we travel through the film’s ninety minutes with a mix of incuriosity and relief at its brevity.

Pim de la Parra and his confrère Wim Verstappen went on to achieve notoriety a couple of years later with their full-blown adult feature, Blue Movie. Afterwards they cruised through the 1970s with a series of “mature” titles interspersed with the occasional drama and experimental film. While it seems P de la P could have pursued one direction or another after his late-60s crime-thriller, I’d wager that either genre isn’t any poorer for him having stepped away from it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Filled with arty montages, plentiful nudity, and Hitchcock references galore (note all the stuffed birds everywhere), Obsessions is a really odd one, mixing old school thriller tropes, chic ’60s fashions and decor, and sleazy kink, all with that percolating Herrmann music underneath.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: MEAT (2010)

Vlees

DIRECTED BY:  Victor Nieuwenhuijs, Maartje Seyferth

FEATURING: Titus Muizelaar, Nellie Benner

PLOT: An emotionally neutered detective investigates a murder at a butcher shop where all the employees have high libidos.

Still from Meat (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There is no question that this is a weird one. But Meat never really matches its mystery to the grand theme or emotional resonance it’s searching for. Its main virtue is that it’s short and sexy, making for a relatively easy watch despite its challenging narrative format.

COMMENTS: Here are some things that happen in Meat: a butcher has sex with a co-worker in a meat locker while another employee secretly videotapes it. A woman plummets to her death. The butcher is found murdered. Here are some things that may or may not happen in Meat: The woman who lives in the room above the shop is a prostitute who meets tricks there during business hours. The prime suspect is raped by a man wearing a skull mask the night of the murder. The murder investigation is conducted by the victim’s doppelganger. Here are some things that don’t happen in Meat, despite the fact that we see them: Three middle-aged customers approach the meat display case, totally nude. The detective watches man being led away from a slaughterhouse, one of them dressed like a chicken, while blood drips down his windshield. Cows, lambs and pigs find their way into the butcher shop at night and urinate on the floor.

It’s that kind of movie. After a set-up that is only marginally odd, focused more on eroticism than surrealism, the last third of the movie surrenders entirely to dream logic. Cryptic shots of a butterfly and a woman submerged in a bathtub, plus elliptical monologues about sheep-slaughtering, are spread through the early sections as harbingers of the all-out weirdness to come. Our dumpy middle-aged butcher has some sort of sexual arrangement with a woman who lives at the shop and whose main duty seems to be to sleep with all the male employees; yet, he naturally fancies the slim blond college-aged part-time worker whose short skirt is half-hidden under her floor-length butcher’s apron. He comes up to her from behind and whispers his dirty old man fantasies into her nubile ears. In the real world, his come-ons would be actionable sexual harassment; here, because they occur while the girl is breathlessly videotaping a dish full of animal organs, it’s mere sexual absurdism.

Later, the phraseology of this scene will be mirrored in the investigator’s language as he interviews the girl, now a suspect: seduction has become interrogation; desire, guilt. Meat‘s strategy is to vacillate between opposites: the body as a sexual canvas, and as a collection of organs to be hacked apart and sold; genitals as organs of pleasure, and portals for the release of bodily waste. Desire goes to war with disgust, as rationality yields to irrationality. Meat explores issues of sex, carnality and guilt—maybe with a side of vegetarianism.

After screening at a handful of European film festivals, Meat spent six years in a post-presentation, pre-distribution netherworld before Artsploitation Films picked it up for belated September 2016 DVD release. With no clear audience besides arthouse curiosity seekers, Meat is an orphan that needs your love.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…bizarre, chilling little character drama …”–Matthew Lee, Screen Anarchy (festival screening)

LIST CANDIDATE: BORGMAN (2013)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Sara H. Ditlevsen

PLOT:  A dangerous group of criminals are lead by a strangely charismatic man named Camiel Borgman, who terrorizes a family after being let into their home.

Still from Borgman (2013)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Dumping dead bodies in a lake and taking a dip right after is weird, but what about strange underground criminals who perform dark ballets on other people’s property just for their own amusement?

COMMENTS: With a keen focus on power and class, Borgman unravels the culture behind malignant societal ills by dissecting its basic unit (the family), citing examples such as sexism, classism, and a general need to be better off than one’s neighbor.  Although he is compared to in numerous reviews, Borgman director Alex Van Warmerdam seems to be less patient, more starkly manical. This makes Borgman full of surprises from start to finish. It’s cohesive and bursting with ideas. It’s fair to say the film’s cerebral aspect alone is completely riveting and preposterously strange, and its characters have a drastic range in their behavior. They can be repulsive, but then they are cool and funny. The maliciousness of Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) is casual, but it’s not surprising that both he and his companions Ludwig and Pascal (Alex van Warmerdam and Tom Dewispelaere respectively) are given the narrative leverage to pull some laughs while scaring us.

Stine, played by Sara H. Ditlevsen is absolutely beautiful, and Hadewych Minis’ Marina is truly mesmerizing. The way the two female leads cater to the men in the story is erotic but dangerous; we watch as it leads to cruelty. There is a strong and intentionally obvious message concerning the guilt of having too much, of looking out upon society and realizing that you are simply better off than most people, but it’s just an aside. Borgman deals mostly with the eradication of the family unit, a demonstration of how abuse leads to distance and betrayal. Richard (Jeroen Perceval) heads the family and he is a racist misogynist if there ever was one. We watch as his own demons consume him in various forms. There is a plentitude of weird creepiness concerning this family and their interaction with Camiel Borgman and his unusually loyal posse, and it makes for a compelling and mystical viewing experience.

Borgman is incredibly dreamy, and a feeling of almost whimsical, drifting terror is delivered in master strokes. It is relentless. Strangely enough, it does not give the impression that it would make a great midnight movie, or even a good cult film, but that doesn’t stop its strangeness from being potent and penetrating. While seeming to borrow heavily from major independent thrillers like Timecrimes, Funny Games and perhaps even No Country for Old Men (the meticulous and calm way Borgman is shown scraping poisonous resin across a serving bowl), Borgman maintains a freshness that is disturbing, dark, cerebral and exhilarating. It has a chilly and dark atmosphere. The heaviness of small details psychically nestle in your brain just enough to hint at the true malice being shown. The result is magnificent anxiety. Bijvoet’s Borgman is entrancing both because of his extraordinary power over people and his relentless brutality for the sake of an unidentified gain. Only hints are given at the intention behind his and malice, so generalized that it’s ultimately up to the viewer to determine what the true meaning is, if any at all. Bijvoet’s performance has range. He portrays coldness, creepiness, tenderness, and brutality all with equalized vigor. He is calm quiet, powerful, and definitely represents larger concepts.

As for the most important aspect of Borgman to us—its weirdness—the actions of the characters are so ridiculous (and sometimes insidious) that the whole thing ends up being slightly surreal. It is also very comical. The label given by critics for this movie as a straight dark comedy is acceptable here, but there is much more to it than that. The end will have most people scratching their heads, in a good way; it gives the movie great replay value, and it’s almost terrifying in its creepiness. I didn’t much enjoy Dogtooth, the domestic satire most associated with this movie; I found Borgman to be much more exciting in its ability to borrow from so many other movies but still be original. In the end, it was the small details, the humor, the subtlety in performance and image that combined to make Borgman lasting, dark, and really, really weird.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Filled with surreal touches and shocking scenes of black humor, Borgman steams ahead with the power and inevitability of a nightmare.”–Tirdad Derakhshani, The Philadelphia Inquirer (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE DRESS [DE JURK] (1996)

DIRECTED BY: Alex van Warmerdam

FEATURING: Alex van Warmerdam

PLOT: The scenario follows the lifespan of a woman’s dress, from it’s design to it’s eventual shredding, and the various wearers to whom it brings bad luck.

Still from The Dress (1996)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Dress definitely nudges the needle on the ol’ weirdometer every now and then, but they may be false positives, as the movie is filled more with a gloomy quirkiness than true weirdness.

COMMENTS: The dress itself is parrot-blue and covered in abstract leaves of red, gold and orange; it’s eye-catching enough for a summer frock, but it’s not going to be the star of any woman’s wardrobe.  The design is conceived in a moment of desperation and despair, inspired by a street argument; the prototype is created by a pervert.  The women who buy it hope that it might brighten their lives for a brief moment, but it only leads them to sorrow instead.  The plot wanders off Phantom of Liberty style to each new owner of the dress, but perhaps one of the weirdest things about the movie is that it feels neither unified nor fragmented.  From segment to segment, the tone of downbeat drama alternating with bittersweet comedy remains the same, and characters even recur, but there isn’t a strong thread holding the tales together—other than, perhaps, the way they all illustrate the futility of the pursuit of erotic happiness.  Writer/director van Warmerdam gives himself the best role, as a train conductor who becomes obsessed with the wearer of the dress.  He gives the character an effective creepiness, with a sheen of respectability hiding an unhinged romantic who’s darting daringly close to becoming a rapist.  The film exhibits an uncomfortable, though not tasteless or mean-spirited, undercurrent of hostility to the fairer sex.  A wardrobe executive’s wife, and every other woman he encounters, refuses him normal tenderness; in another masculine nightmare, the dress designer’s girlfriend humiliates him with a laundry list of complaints about his manly deficiencies as she’s leaving him, only pausing her harangue momentarily so he can take a threatening call from his irate boss.  To provide balance there is one scene of domestic happiness, scenes where men are cold towards their girlfriends, and many others where men are depicted as vicious, if unsuccessful, predators.  Still, the script, while not exactly misogynist, still feels like might have been written by a jilted lover as self-therapy after a bitter breakup.  It’s a comedy, but the humor is of the nervous titters breaking up tense situations variety. For example, a dangerous argument inside borrowed home is broken up by a common enemy, the returning owner (carrying a shotgun in one hand and a baby in the other, she could have stepped right out of a Dutch John Waters film).  Though they don’t fit together into a movie in a completely satisfactory way, the individual scenes are all well-crafted, acted with nuance and a studied observation of human nature (the characters’ behavior seems real even when its elicited by an absurd stress).  In one bedroom scene, for example, van Warmerdam does an excellent job of convincing us that one of the dress’ owners might actually take a terrible romantic chance on a man. The setup has no right to work, but somehow it doesn’t stick out as merely laughable.  Other memorable scenes include the fashion designer’s startlingly suggested perversion and an exceedingly sad assignation between an old man and a public park prostitute.  Most effective, perhaps, is the make-of-it-what-you-will finale that offers up a matter-of-fact interpretation of the dress’ symbolism—from a professional art critic, no less—then dramatically undercuts the proffered explanation with a puzzling surprise conclusion.

Van Warmerdam has made six features, only half of which are available in the U.S. (and even those can be difficult to find).  Though it’s not great, The Dress is interesting, well-crafted, and original enough that it convinces you that the director may have a great movie in him somewhere.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I can think of few things more appropriate to call The Dress than absurd. It’s a bizarre comedy with a brand of humor that, despite making fun of normally-serious issues like rape and sexual harassment, can inspire bouts of uncontrolled, politically-incorrect laughter.”–James Berardinelli, Reel Views (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Tom Six

FEATURING: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura

PLOT: A mad doctor turns three people into a human centipede.

Still from Human Centipede (First Sequence)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Not weird, just gross.

COMMENTS:  There’s something in Hollywood that’s called a “high concept.”  It doesn’t mean what you probably think it means.  It refers to a plot hook that is so simple it can be compellingly summarized in a single sentence, like “a mad doctor turns three people into a human centipede.”  People will buy tickets to see the picture based on that easily digestible premise, so filmmakers can fill the remainder of the movie with whatever supporting crap they need to, just so long as it pads the film out to feature length.  The Human Centipede is a perfect example of a high concept horror film.  People are seduced into buying a ticket by the idea of seeing a human centipede, never minding the fact that they won’t see anything in the movie they didn’t already imagine when they heard the one sentence summary.  After watching the two minute trailer, it seemed like I knew everything that was going to happen in the film, so I was curious to see how director Tom Six would fill up the remaining 88 minutes.   The results of my study follow.  (Note: there aren’t really any spoilers in the following description, as there’s not enough plot to spoil).

  • HORROR MOVIE SETUP WE’VE SEEN 1,000 TIMES BEFORE:  Two hot, ditzy American tourists in Holland put on too much eye makeup, sensing that it will make them look cool, sexy and vulnerable when it smears in the rain after they’re caught in a downpour when their car breaks down late at night in a spooky woods and they have to walk to an isolated ranch-style home where a doctor who looks like a Dutch Christopher Walken with acne scars serves them a drugged drink.  There is actually one valuable lesson to be learned in this segment: if you’re on a deserted road and find you have to rush into the woods to use the bathroom, don’t do your business right in front of the parked car of the only homicidal maniac to be found in a twenty five kilometer radius. 20 minutes.
  • RECOGNITION OF THE HORROR THAT’S ABOUT TO BEFALL THEM:  The dastardly villain proves he’s willing to go to any lengths in his villainy.  Recapitulating the trailer in case the girls didn’t see it on YouTube, he then shows his helpless victims a helpful Continue reading CAPSULE: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) (2009)