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DIRECTED BY: Martin Koolhoven
FEATURING: Fedja van Huêt, Carice van Houten, Sacha Bulthuis, Theo Maassen
PLOT: After receiving a call that his mother is ill, a photographer returns to his family estate (“AmnesiA”) to face his gangster twin brother and a traumatic childhood memory.
COMMENTS: You will seldom see a film where you will be as uncertain if the characters really exist as in AmneisiA. The base story of Alex returning to his old, abandoned homestead—improbably and tellingly dubbed “AmnesiA”—can be seen as nothing more than a symbolic depiction of Alex wrestling with the unresolved internal conflict of a seen-in-choppy-flashbacks childhood trauma. And although that is an extraordinary event, it is far and away the most believable thing you’ll see.
It’s not that anything truly impossible happens in AmnesiA. It’s just that no one in the movie acts in ways that make sense, but rather in ways that are unnerving or absurd. After an efficient, if ominous, setup, things start to feel off when Alex discovers pretty Sandra stowing away in his car. She refuses to explain who she is or what she’s doing there, and rather than panicking or throwing her out, Alex lets her tag along, and doesn’t correct his mother when she assumes the girl is his fiancee. Twin brother Aram brings home an even stranger companion, Wouter; the two have just returned from a bungled robbery, and Wouter sports a massive gut wound, acquired under mysterious circumstances. Every now and then someone will comment that he really should see a doctor, but basically everyone ignores the fact that he’s bleeding all over the furniture. Although the house receives other visitors, this fivesome takes up the bulk of the screentime. We are privy to many perversions along the way—disrespectful urination, a son turning into his father in unhealthy ways, and cucking twins—but introspective psychodrama, rather than shock value, remains the focus.
Fedja van Huêt is excellent in his two roles; even without their slightly different hairstyles and dress, we would never confuse the brooding Alex for the simmering Aram, or vice-versa. Carice van Houten (who would later find international stardom in “Game of Thrones”) is simply lovely, and really gives the sense that she doesn’t know what her character is doing at Alex’s childhood home (not in uncomplimentary sense, but by design; we aren’t supposed to know what her character is doing there, either). Mother Sacha Bulthuis and wounded thug Theo Maassen provide comic relief—bloody comic relief, in the latter case.
AmnesiA received positive reviews on release, but for reasons unknown never made it onto DVD in North America. Cult Epics rescues this nearly forgotten (heh heh) feature with a pristine DVD/Blu-ray release, featuring a moderated commentary from the director and star and supplemental interviews with Koolhoven and van Houten. The double Blu-ray release also includes two of Koolhaven’s two previous made-for-TV movies, Dark Light (1997) and Suzy Q (1999), made with some of the same cast. Kudos to Cult Epics for putting this overlooked, surreal Dutch psychothriller in front of more eyeballs.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The hoary myth about identical twins — that one is good and the other evil — must tap into some primal notion of the divided self in which the two halves claw at each other’s throats, each seeking dominance. The concept gets a weird but intriguing workout in ‘AmnesiA,’ a surreal Dutch film that carries the comic menace of a play like Harold Pinter’s ‘Homecoming’ to the brink of horror.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)