Tag Archives: Dutch

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)