Mar 2, 2015

The Assault (1986)

Undoubtedly, every modern western nation has its overrated token Judaic literary figure as it would be considered nothing short of antisemitism for white Europeans and Americans to not put at least one Semitic scribbler, especially if they are a proud shoah survivor like Eli Wiesel, on a grand pedestal, even if they are not even remotely worthy of such a honor. In the Netherlands, Harry Mulisch—a fellow who, along with his Jewess mother, managed to remain rather unscathed during the Nazi occupation because his Austrian gentile banker father worked for a kraut bank that dealt with confiscated Jewish assets—is undoubtedly considered the most famous post-WWII Jewish writer and unlike that obscenely overrated weasel Wiesel, he is somewhat deserving of his great fame. Aside from his novels, Mulisch is also famous for his rather flagrant arrogance which bordered on megalomania as reflected in statements like, “I don’t just remember it; I am World War II.” Possibly as a result of his bizarre situation as a Dutch Jew who was not persecuted during the Second World War and because his Aryan father collaborated with the Nazis and was thus later imprisoned as a Nazi collaborator, Mulisch took a more intricate view of the Nazi occupation and its aftermath as personified in his best-selling novel De Aanslag (1982) aka The Assault which, unlike most Dutch novels, was translated into more than 30 languages and spawned a hit film adaptation that was just as successful as the book, even if it is not as famous as it probably should be in the United States where reading subtitles is certainly not the norm. Indeed, the film is notable for being the first Dutch film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1986 and was directed by Fons Rademakers (Mira, Because of the Cats aka The Rape) who incidentally was also the very first Dutch filmmaker to be nominated for an Academy Award via his work Dorp aan de rivier (1958) aka The Village by the River in 1959. 

 Although distributed by the kosher kitsch kings at Cannon Films who mostly churned out senseless action-packed schlock and proudly anti-artistic celluloid swell featuring big tits and big guns, The Assault (1986) aka De Aanslag is a classic epic war-drama with a quasi-arthouse style and 140+ minute running time that is probably the only Nazi occupation work of its kind that is worthy of being compared to Paul Verhoeven’s Soldaat van Oranje (1977) aka Soldier of Orange which, incidentally, was also penned by prolific Dutch screenwriter Gerard Soeteman (Turks fruit aka Turkish Delight, Spetters). A film that spans over four paradigm-shifting decades, beginning at the end of World War II and concluding in the 1980s, The Assault is also probably the closest thing to a Dutch equivalent to Edgar Reitz’s magnum opus Heimat: A Chronicle of Germany (1984) in terms of its subtly melancholic depiction of the serious social changes of a Germanic nation over the course of a number of decades, with the Second World War ultimately being the most obvious catalyst for these mostly deleterious transformations. A carefully crafted political-thriller in a slowburning yet sometimes action-packed Greek tragedy form, Rademakers tells the story of a barely likeable Dutch doctor who unravels the unpredictable fact and curious circumstances that led to the deaths of his entire family at the hands of the Gestapo after a Dutch Nazi collaborator is killed outside of his family home by members of the resistance. A work about the irony of fate where there are no clear-cut heroes and where supposed good guys’ actions are just as deleterious and deadly as supposed bad guys’, The Assault is a film that might sometimes feel like an unintentionally hokey Hollywood film in its occasionally contrived direction and crappy pseudo-classical music, but ultimately features relatively complex philosophical themes that expose Steven Spielberg for the reductionist Zionist agitpropagandist that he is, as Schindler's List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and Munich (2005) seem like insults to the human experience and history when compared to Rademakers' film, which does something rather rare for its (sub)genre in that it depicts the consequences of war from all different perspectives.  Indeed, The Assault is probably the only film you will ever see where an elderly resistance fighter is still consumed with hatred for his ex-enemies despite the war ending about four decades before and the son of a Nazi is depicted as the most mentally, emotionally, and economically forsaken of all the characters.  Of course, unlike the United States, the Netherlands, like most of Europe, only faced pain and misery as a result of the Second World War.

 As narrated at the beginning of The Assault, “It’s January 1945. Almost all of Europe is liberated…celebrating, eating, drinking and making love. But here in Haarlem it’s still war. And winter. The winter of starvation.” Indeed, elderly men are dropping like flies via starvation as a result of the Hongerwinter (‘Hunger Winter’) famine, but 12-year-old protagonist Anton Steenwijk (Marc van Uchelen) seems totally unaffected by the misery of World War II and is even friendly with a much hated classmate named Fake Ploeg whose father is a Dutch Nazi collaborator and is purportedly responsible for the death and torture of various members of the shadowy Dutch resistance. When Nazi Fake Ploeg Sr. is killed in Anton’s neighborhood and the neighbors, a semi-sexy nurse named Karin Korteweg (Ina van der Molen) and her widowed father, inexplicably move the corpse in front of the protagonist’s family home, the Gestapo ultimately burns down the protagonist’s house, kill his entire family and 19 other people as a reprisal for the assassination. Indeed, when the Gestapo showed up at the Steenwijk home and noticed that Anton’s father had a copy of a book by Dutch Sephardic Jewish philosopher Spinoza sitting out, the Nazi in charge felt they had their culprits, especially considering the protagonist’s 17-year-old brother Peter (Casper de Boer) was caught attempting to move Ploeg’s corpse and run away with the dead Nazi’s gun. After being separated from his parents and watching his house being burned down by Nazis with blowtorches, Anton is put in a prison cell with a young female Dutch resistance fighter (Monique van de Ven) who refuses to tell the boy her name but gives him the advice, “…one thing you should never forget for the rest of your life. Don’t forget that the Krauts set your house on fire. Who did it, did it…And not someone else.” When Anton reveals to the woman what happened to him and his family, she begins to cry and remarks, “You know, if the resistance hadn’t done it…that Ploeg would have killed a lot of other people.” Although their interaction is brief and the protagonist only manages to see the resistance fighter’s large sensual lips, Anton will remember the encounter with the “communist whore” (as she is described by a Nazi officer) for the rest of his life. 

Ultimately, Anton (Derek de Lint) is driven to Amsterdam the next day by some German soldiers and goes to live with his uncle after learning his parents and brother have been executed. Flash forward to 1952 and Anton is a medical student that, “doesn’t meddle with politics, no more than he does with his past,” but that changes when he goes back to his hometown in Haarlem for the first time since his parent were killed, “because a friend passed his Master’s degree in dental surgery.” While walking around his old neighborhood, Anton is spotted by his old neighbor Mrs. Beumer (Elly Weller) who reveals to him that his belated mother attacked SD men and that both his parents were “killed like animals.” When Mrs. Beumer reveals that a monument has been erected to his parents and the rest of the people from Haarlem were killed by the Germans, Anton visits it by himself and seems quite melancholy, but he subsequently buries the past and does not revisit it again until 1956 when he has a chance encounter with his old childhood ‘friend’ Fake Ploeg Jr. at a violent communist riot in Amsterdam. Like his belated Nazi father, Fake is a staunch anticommunist and seems quite resentful that Anton is now a doctor. As Fake explains, his mother was put in a concentration camp for NSB members/Nazi collaborators simply because she was the widow of a Nazi, so he was forced to go to trade school instead of college and now works at an appliance shop doing “repairs and the like.” Fake clearly suffers from a persecution complex and as he rants regarding his need to battle communist scum in Amsterdam, “My father is right. Everything they say about communists now, he was already saying in the war…And it’s those damn communists who killed him.” Needless to say, Anton is not impressed and when he suggests that Fake’s father was responsible for the murder of his parents, the discernibly angst-ridden anticommunist goes berserk, throws a rock at the mirror, and runs out of the protagonist's apartment, though he briefly comes back to tell him that he will always remember that he was the only person in Haarlem to be nice to him when he was a kid and everyone in town hated him because he was the son of a Nazi collaborator. Undoubtedly, out of all the people in the entire film, Fake is clearly the one that was mostly deeply affected by the aftermath of the war, though virtually ever single character wears the internal scars of the singularly catastrophic event. 

 Although he spends a good portion of his early adult years having short month-long relationships as if he has intimacy problems and lacks the capacity to devote himself to a single woman as a result of his tragic experiences during childhood, Anton decides to get married after meeting a Dutch girl while on a trip in East London named Saskia de Graaff (also played by Monique van de Ven) that has the same exact lips as the mysterious resistance fighter he met when he was 12-years-old. While at a funeral for his father-in-law’s resistance fighter friend, Anton overhears an old fat man named Cor Takes (John Kraaykamp) aka ‘Gijs’ discussing his role in assassinating Fake Ploeg. After introducing himself to Gijs, the elderly resistance fighter justifies killing Ploeg by stating, “He’d use a whip with a wire to flay the skin off your face. He’d push your bare bottom against the hot stove. He’d put a garden hose in your ass so that you would puke your own shit. He had to be taken care of.”  Surely, Anton becomes somewhat annoyed with Gijs because he realizes that if he had not killed Ploeg, his family would have never been executed by the Gestapo. While talking together, Anton is startled to learn that Gijs was the lover of the sensual-lipped female resistance fighter he met when he was a kid. Gijs also reveals to Anton that the female resistance fighter’s name was Truus Coster and she was executed by the Gestapo at some sand dunes near Amsterdam. 

 After learning about the true identity of resistance fighter Truus Coster, Anton starts a strange and somewhat reluctant relationship with Gijs that ultimately makes him become obsessed with the death of his parents and the mysterious circumstances revolving around the death of Fake, like why his neighbor Karin and her father moved the Nazi’s corpse in front of his family home. Although having a young daughter with her named Sandra, Anton divorces Saskia and eventually marries another woman named Elisabeth (Mies de Heer) with whom he has a son named Peter in tribute to his dead brother. While at an anti-nuclear protest that he is blackmailed into joining by his dentist friend Gerrit-Jan (Kees Coolen), Anton bumps into his ex-neighbor Karin and he does not waste anytime  asking her why she and her father moved Ploeg’s body in front of his family’s house, thereupon resulting in their deaths. After explaining that her father was so consumed with guilt as a result of being indirectly responsible for his family’s death that he moved to New Zealand and eventually committed suicide, Karin explains that they decided to drop Ploeg’s body in front of his house instead of their neighbors the Aarts because the latter family was hiding Jews in their home and they did not want the Nazis to find them. After discovering that his family’s demise was the accidental circumstance of protecting a hidden Jewish family, Anton seems to come to terms with the past and can finally move on with the future. 

 Ironically, despite the resentment that many Dutch people still hold for the Germans as a result of the Second World War, the Netherlands is home to what is probably the only monument dedicated to a German Wehrmacht soldier in the entire world. The monument was made in tribute to a German solider named Private Karl-Heinz Rösch who was blown up at the mere age of 18 just moments after saving the lives of two small Dutch children at a farm in the small southern Netherlands village of Goirle during an Allied attack on October 6, 1944. In a somewhat strange way, I think The Assault expresses the same message as the Rösch monument as it completely demystifies the official narrative regarding ‘good’ and ‘evil’ during the Second World War, as both works of art demonstrate the impact of individual acts during wartime. Indeed, while the protagonist of the film is told by various people to never forget that ‘the krauts’ were responsible for torching his family home and killing his parents, the character also encounters nice German soldiers and realizes that some members of the resistance were just as much of murderous thugs as the most merciless members of the Gestapo. While the protagonist’s parents were indeed executed by the krauts, their deaths were the direct result of a series of misunderstandings and unfortunate circumstances that are especially common during times of war when one small slip can result in death. As source writer Harry Mulisch, who was a lifelong left-winger, stated of his own father’s stranger-than-fiction circumstances as a man who ultimately paid a major price for protecting his Jewish son and wife, “It’s a terrible paradox of the war. My father took great risks to save my mother and was later condemned as a collaborator.” While I think the conclusion was somewhat preposterous and some of the scenes were hopelessly contrived, The Assault is an engulfing work that acts as a sort of antidote to the mundanely dichotomous black-and-white morality of virtually all Hollywood WWII films. While the protagonist seems to think otherwise when he learns of the true circumstances leading up to his family’s death, his kinfolk ultimately died pointless deaths which, although quite typical of war, seems to be a concept that most Americans do not want to accept as reflected by the fact that they call virtually anyone that dies in a pointless Zionist war a ‘hero.’  Apparently, during his Oscar acceptance speech, director Fons Rademakers naively attempted to convince American audiences to get over their seemingly undying fear of reading subtitles and embrace films from other countries.  For better or worse, The Assault is indubitably one of the most ‘accessible’ Dutch films ever made, even if it forces the viewer to slightly look beyond good and evil as far as morality is concerned, thus making it the perfect introductory work for novices of cinema from the Netherlands.

-Ty E

Mar 1, 2015


Dutch auteur Alex van Warmerdam (Abel aka Voyeur, De Jurk aka The Dress) is a a filmmaker whose works I tend to consider hit or miss, but are certainly never boring. Personally, I was ready to give up on van Warmerdam after Grimm—a botched modernist reworking of the popular European fairytale Brother and Sister written by the Brothers Grimm, who have most certainly been one of the greatest influences on the Dutch filmmaker—but then he made his near-masterpiece Borgman (2013), which is certainly his greatest and most ambitious effort since his second feature De Noorderlingen (1992) aka The Northerners. Like most of van Warmerdam’s films, Borgman is a darkly humorous, nihilistic, and rather misanthropic anti-bourgeois neo-fable of sorts, but what makes it somewhat different than the director’s previous works is that it is his closest thing to a ‘horror’ film, though certainly not in the conventional sense of the genre. The first Dutch film in 38 years to be selected to compete in the Cannes Film Festival for the coveted Palme d'Or (Jos Stelling’s beauteously brutal directorial debut Mariken van Nieumeghen (1974) was the first and last film to compete in the festival before van Warmerdam’s film was accepted), the film is a pernicious piece of antichrist celluloid metaphysics where pure and unadulterated, yet admittedly charming and sophisticated, evil prevails in the end. Indeed, aside from its idiosyncratically incendiary humor and post-Grimmian storytelling, van Warmerdam’s fiercely farcical filmic fable is anti-Hollywood to its cold black dead core in that all of modern Americanized western man’s dreams are meticulously destroyed in an intriguingly slow-burning fashion that destroys the viewer’s world and takes them to hell in about 110 minutes or so.

In a June 5, 2014 interview featured at Dangerous Minds, van Warmerdam confesses regarding the eponymous ‘antihero’: “He is an evil version of myself. He does what I would do if I were him.” In a storyline that is superficially similar to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (1968), Borgman depicts an enigmatic stranger entering an oh-so ostensibly perfect bourgeois home and slowly but surely ‘seducing’ virtually every single family member in a somewhat inexplicable, quasi-supernatural fashion. Featuring blatant references to Swiss painter Henry Fuseli’s masterwork The Nightmare (1781), the film features an antihero that looks like a deranged hobo but is ultimately an evil being whose behavior resembles that of the incubus-like ‘Alp’ of German folklore. It should also be noted that the titular character’s first name is ‘Camiel’ and he becomes the gardener of the main family featured in the film, as ‘Camael’ is one of the seven archangels of the Bible and is claimed to be the leader of the forces that got Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden. Notably, van Warmerdam was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church, which refuses to recognize Camael because of the Vatican’s decision to ban the veneration of angels that are not mentioned in the Bible, thus reflecting the Dutch auteur filmmaker’s innately heretical essence. Indeed, Borgman is a work where the figurative ‘Adam and Eve’ are ‘banished’ from their suburban ‘paradise’ on earth, the bourgeois utopian ideal is deconstructed and ripped to shreds, and the bad guys win, among various other uniquely unsavory and superlatively subversive sacrilegious things that make van Warmerdam seem like one of the most spiritually forsaken yet comically clever filmmakers in cinema history.

Opening with the foreboding pseudo-Biblical quote, “And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks,” Borgman instantly establishes a supernatural horror mood that is only further accentuated when a super stoic Catholic priest (Pierre Bokma) with a shotgun and two brutish looking dudes with bad ass attitudes attempt to hunt down and presumably kill a hobo that lives in a sort of makeshift bunker in the woods. The hobo in question is named ‘Camiel Borgman’ (Belgian actor Jan Bijvoet) and he bears a striking resemblance to the eponymous character played by John Barrymore in Svengali (1931). Unluckily for the main middle-class family featured in the film, Borgman manages to escape from the martial priest via a tunnel connected to his underground home and subsequently warns his equally hobo-like comrades Ludwig (director Alex van Warmerdam) and Pascal (Tom Dewispelaere) to escape as well. Somewhat strangely, Borgman thinks it is a good idea to enter an opulent bourgeoisie neighborhood with large houses featuring modern architecture where he proceeds to knock on the doors of random people and asks them if he can bathe in their homes, which he is routinely denied. When Borgman knocks on the home of a middle-age corporate workaholic family man named Richard (Jeroen Perceval) and pretends to be know his blonde wife Marina (Hadewych Minis), he is nearly beaten half to death and then subsequently disappears seconds later as if he has disappeared into thin air, though the sinisterly manipulative meta-Machiavellian hobo never actually leaves the property. Indeed, Richard seems to wisely sense there is something ominous and threatening about Borgman and instinctively physically ravages the blatantly dubious vagrant, who actually actually has the gall to get smart and arrogant with the man whose bathtub he so arrogantly demands to use. Falling victim to irrational female style empathy and the sort of liberal humanist brainwashing you tend to suffer if you watch too much TV or attend a liberal arts college, Marina feels sorry for dirty bum bastard Borgman and when she notices the antagonist squatting in her shed later that night while he husband is at work, she does not call the police but instead absurdly invites him in him to take a luxury bath where he enjoys a nice meal, wine, and cable television while sitting in the tub. Of course, little does hopelessly naive Marina realize that Borgman will eventually take over her home, family, and entire life, among other things.

Despite the fact that she does not work and spends most of her time playing around and creating degenerate Pollack-esque paintings by literally flinging paint on a large canvas, Marina has her three small grade school children watched and taken care of by a young maid named Stine (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen), who the female protagonist warns to not tell her husband about the fact that Borgman is squatting in their shed. Rather curiously, Marina’s youngest daughter Isolde (Elve Lijbaart) falls ill after Borgman moves in and the seemingly demonic antihero soon uses the opportunity to brainwash the young girl with seemingly satanic stories like ‘The Story of the White Child that Floats Above the Clouds.’  In fact, Borgman begins regularly telling all three children nighttime stories about how Jesus Christ is a liar and a banal narcissist who does not care about anyone but himself.  Ultimately, by telling the children these stories, Borgman manages to become the sole paternal influence, as the kids' father is also depicted telling them stories but he is nowhere as near as good of a storyteller and seems like an over-the-hill meathead jock philistine compared to the spiritually deleterious vagrant, who utilizes lies and superficial charm to corrupt the souls of his all-too-human prey.  Aside from being able to brainwash Marina to begin hating her husband by sitting unclad on her body while she is asleep like the incubus in Fuseli’s painting The Nightmare, Borgman also has the power to talk to animals, namely dogs, who soon begin roaming the bourgeois family’s home and may or may not be the antihero’s comrades Ludwig and Pascal in animal form. Aside from Ludwig and Pascal, two similarly swarthy guidette-like women, the middle-aged Brenda (van Warmerdam’s wife Annet Malherbe) and 30-something-year-old Ilonka (Eva van de Wijdeven), also ‘work’ for Borgman, who he communicates with via cellphone. Ultimately, Borgman will use his loyal menacing collectivist-minded minions to help him take over both Richard and Marina’s home and family.  Quite notably, all of the members of Borgman’s group have a scar on their back near their shoulder blade, as if they have been given some sort of satanic surgery that has programmed them to become evil followers of the almost seemingly undead sort.  Naturally, Richard and Marina's children and maid Stine will also become unwitting victims to this exceedingly energumenical esoteric influence.

Needless to say, it does not take Marina long to completely fall under Borgman’s uniquely unscrupulous spell and when the antihero decides to leave after complaining that he is bored because he cannot roam around her house freely, the pathetically desperate and seemingly sex-starved housewife becomes desperate and agrees to a curious arrangement that ultimately results in the slow and painful death of the nice elderly family gardener. With the help of his demonesses Brenda and Ilonka, Borgman kills the gardener and his wife, drops their corpses in a lake after attaching a plant pot full of cement to their heads, and then takes over their home as if they are assuming their identities. By shaving his head and beard and sporting a fancy new suit, Borgman manages to obfuscate his identity and is instantly hired by superficial and vain ‘bourgeois-minded’ Richard, as the new gardener, though Ludwig and Pascal also help him obtain the job. Indeed, knowing that Richard is a ‘racist’ who does not want dirty untermenschen roaming around his property and have easy access to his young children and frigid wife, Ludwig and Pascal pay shabbily-dressed bum-like Arabs and negroes to apply for the gardener job so that Borgman comes out looking like the only decent and worthy candidate. When a nice looking old white fellow attempts to apply for the job, Ludwig grabs him before he reaches the front-door of Richard's home and proceeds to brutally beat him. When Richard and Marina’s youngest daughter Isolde, who has completely fallen under Borgman’s sinister spell and whose eyes indicate that she seems dead inside, later finds the old man in the woods, she kills the poor old bastard by crushing his skull with a cement block. Ultimately, moronic mark Richard is so impressed with Borgman that he not only hires him for the gardening job, but also allows him to stay in a luxury room in their family home and Ludwig and Pascal are soon brought in as ‘assistants.’  While transforming Richard and Marina's garden from a suburban Garden in Eden into a subtly ominous Garden of Evil, Borgman and his chthonian comrades begin putting their final touches on their metaphysically malefic master plan that only the children seem to truly understand.

Naturally, when workaholic Richard unexpectedly loses his much cherished job as an ass-licking corporate whore, he is destroyed, so when maid Stine brings her masculine military recruit boyfriend Arthur Stornebrink (Mike Weerts) over for dinner one night and the family man realizes he is the son of the boss that fired him, a fight breaks out that rather repels Marina, who now hates her hubby and has become completely infatuated with Borgman, who tells her that he will not have sex with her until the time is right, as if the carnal act will be of spiritual proportions. Of course, Borgman has nil interest in Marina and is just stringing the hopelessly horny housewife along so that he can fulfill his particularly pernicious plan. When all three of the children become ill, Borgman has his demoness Brenda come by in the guise of a doctor and she somewhat humorously describes the kid’s sicknesses as being the result of being “overtired” from the “modern world,” adding,“Don’t forget they have a lot to cope with these days: TV, internet, school. In the holidays the child’s body will give up.”  To keep Marina and her children in check, Borgman and his pals also begin drugging the family, with Ludwig and Pascal even taking the three kids into a sewer where they supply them with a dubious red liquid that resembles Kool-Aid.  When Borgman induces a nightmare in Marina where she has her skin ripped off her flesh by her husband during a heated sex session, she wakes up enraged and nonsensically punches her sleeping hubby in the head, so the decidedly disrespected family man fights back by smacking her around and then subsequently drags her into a bathroom where he forces her to take a cold shower. Needless to say, Marina is rather pissed about being smacked around by her much hated hubby Richard, so she asks Borgman to kill him. Ultimately, Richard is poisoned after Borgman’s minions perform a sort of sinisterly high-camp garden-based opera featuring Ilonka performing ballet and Ludwig and Pascal in drag sporting tights and tutus. After Richard croaks, Borgman’s demons perform ‘back surgery’ on Stine and assumedly the kids, thus leaving them with the same back scars as the antihero and his comrades. While Marina expects sex from Borgman, the antihero predictably poisons her as well. In the end after Richard and Marina are killed and buried in their yard, Borgman leaves the home with his comrades and brings the three children and Stine with them.  Like all evil psychopathic leaders ranging from Trotsky to Obama that thrive on lies to maintain power and to get their followers to mindlessly support and/or carry out the most dastardly and despicable of deeds, Borgman understands that to make someone your spiritual slave they still have to be young and impressionable enough, hence his decision to spare none of the adults just as the bolsheviks spared none of the white Russians, especially not the priests, intellectuals, and members of the aristocracy.  In that sense, in few other films does evil triumph in such an effortless and seemingly immaculate fashion than in Borgman.

Unquestionably, Borgman can be interpreted in a variety of ways, both materialistically and metaphysically, but some things are quite certain like its flagrant anti-bourgeois and ultimately ethno-masochistic message. Indeed, aside from a scene where Richard is depicted as a big mean racist who turns down poor brown people of various shades for the gardener job, the same character defends his so-called ‘white privilege’ after his wife complains she feels guilty due to their European opulence by stating, “We were born in the West, and the West happens to be affluent. We can’t help it.” Of course, auteur Alex van Warmerdam demonstrated his sad groveling sense of white guilt and ethno-masochism in The Northerners, which not only portrays traditionalist Dutch folk as sadistic perverts, rapists, murderers, and schizophrenic religious fanatics but also pays quirky tribute to Congolese independence leader and Pan-African revolutionary Patrice Émery Lumumba, as well as features a negro tribesman blinding a ‘fascistic’ hunter of the symbolically sexually impotent sort. Despite the film’s dubious, convoluted message, Borgman can luckily also be interpreted in the opposite way that the director probably intended, especially considering that the eponymous villain looks just like Svengali who, as depicted in George du Maurier's 1895 novel Trilby, is a Jew with Eastern European origins who, aside from seducing and manipulating young girls, also bullies and utilizes cynical humor like the character in van Warmerdam’s film. The fact that the antihero also first targets the women and children while sneakily isolating them from the unwitting father is also a method that the Judaic cultural marxists of the Frankfurt School have used to undermine and destroy white western man via feminism, multiculturalism, so-called ‘sexual liberation,’ and various other slave-morality-inclined underhanded weapons based on great lies that only the figurative synagogue of satan could contrive.  After all, like Borgman, world Judea tends to corrupt a society from within, infecting and subverting every imperative cultural, moral, and spiritual tradition of its host until it is only a distorted shell of what is used to be as especially reflected in the contemporary West.  The fact that Borgman drugs his victims just like contemporary western school teachers and psychiatrists recommend parents do to their children if they have a hard time adjusting to the globalist anti-Occidental multiculturalist LGBT-friendly program just goes to show that van Warmerdam's work is probably the only modern filmic fable that manages to capture spiritual afflictions of our conspicuously corrupt and amazingly morally inverted contemporary zeitgeist, which absurdly values the weak over the strong and emphasizes the minority over the majority.  Interestingly, the family featured in the film is not very sympathetic, thus hinting that the West is already so forsaken in its malignant moral bankruptcy that its defeat by pure evil is nothing short of inevitable. Of course, the greatest irony is that Borgman and the rest of van Warmerdam’s oeuvre could have only been created in a spiritually sick and racially and culturally deracinated nation that has succumbed to the darker side, thus the Dutch auteur must feel blessed in his own warped sort of way. Despite van Warmerdam’s questionable views of his own people and culture, Borgman indubitably follows in a rich Dutch artistic tradition dating back to paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and Jan Brueghel the Elder in its modernist interpretation of the Garden of Eden. Indeed, as much as van Warmerdam might resent it, he is unquestionably a product of his culture, people, and religion as is so idiosyncratically and iconoclastically expressed in Borgman, which is a work that could only have been directed by a degenerate post-WWII Germanic mensch who can only laugh at the idea of a figurative hell on earth and world in flames.

-Ty E

Feb 27, 2015

Venus in Furs (1994)

Due to the fact that it has crossed my path countless times in my life, I recently decided it was about time that I read Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s most famous novella Venus im Pelz (1870) aka Venus in Furs, even though I am not a masochistic mensch who enjoys being whipped or generally mistreated by women in absurdly expensive fur coats. Originally a part of a rather ambitious epic six volume cycle (with each volume featuring six novellas) envisioned by the author entitled Das Vermächtnis Kains aka Legacy of Cain that was ultimately never completed (Sacher-Masoch only completed two of the six projected novellas), the work ultimately inspired psychiatrist turned sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing to coin the word ‘masochism’ in tribute to the book’s perverted flagellation-fetishizing author and would go on to influence everyone from the Velvet Underground (who included a single entitled “Venus in Furs” with their debut album) to kraut carpet-muncher filmmaker Monika Treut (who directed a modernist lesbian reworking of the novella under the title Verführung: Die Grausame Frau (1985) aka Seduction: The Cruel Woman). In fact, von Sacher-Masoch’s novella has been adapted by a number of other filmmakers, including sexploitation hack Joe Marzano, slightly underrated Italian giallo maestro Massimo Dallamano, and most recently Roman Polanski, but none of these works are more faithful to the original work than a little known and considerably underrated black-and-white Dutch adaptation. Indeed, Venus in Furs (1994) aka Venus im Pelz was the stunning directorial debut of real-life lovers Maartje Seyferth and Victor Nieuwenhuijs, who are easily two of the most underrated filmmakers working in the Netherlands and have created a half dozen or so highly idiosyncratic and rather dark yet aesthetically resplendent features, including Lulu (2005), Crepuscule (2009), and Vlees (2010) aka Meat. Originally co-written by South African auteur Aryan Kaganof (whose contributions to the work were apparently mostly unused for whatever reason, though he is credited in the film under his birth name Ian Kerkhof in the film), the film is unquestionably one of the most elegant and seemingly visually immaculate and exceedingly exquisite S&M/BDSM-themed films ever made, as a work that makes being beat and humiliated by a bitchy and superlatively shrewd woman almost seem pleasurable and ultimately makes Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) seem like a tasteless and equally soulless piece of senseless pseudo-erotic softcore swill on big budget Hollywood steroids. Aesthetically speaking, Venus in Furs is a positively penetrating piece of pure and unadulterated cinema of the rather refined risqué sort that oftentimes resembles a chiaroscuro and owes much of its absolutely entrancing majesty to German Expressionism, film noir, Dutch avant-garde auteur Frans Zwartjes (who was once Nieuwenhuijs’ teacher), and the black-and-white works of Ingmar Bergman and Mai Zetterling. In short, Seyferth and Nieuwenhuijs’ film features a sort of aberrant yet arousing aristocratic elegance and dignified decadence that is completely absent from contemporary cinema, be it European arthouse or otherwise.  Indeed, if you're looking for a cheap and sleazy masturbation aid featuring used-up sluts with silicone tits and spastic editing, Venus in Furs is surely not for you.

 Based on a cryptically autobiographical novel inspired by author von Sacher-Masoch’s experience of voluntarily making himself the the slave of an novice novelist named Fanny Pistor (who used the Slavic noble alias ‘Baroness Bogdanoff’) who carried out the writer’s fantasy to be regularly whipped by a cruel ans wickedly demanding ice queen wearing nothing but a fancy fur coat, Venus in Furs depicts the doomed BDSM roleplay-based (anti)romance of an effeminate dark-haired aristocratic writer/artist and self-described ‘suprasensual man’ named Severin von Kusiemski (André Arend van Noord) who coerces his busty blonde lover Wanda von Dunajew (Anne van der Ven) into becoming his cruel master and even draws up a contract to make sure she will carry out their aberrant arrangement, which surely no sane man would ever think of, let alone obsessively desire. Told in a partly nonlinear yet seamlessly constructed fashion, Seyferth and Nieuwenhuijs’ superlatively sadomasochistic piece of intricately stylized celluloid will certainly be much more accessible to those that have read von Sacher-Masoch’s novel (in fact, I highly recommend reading the book before daring to watching the film).  Near the beginning of the film in a strangely soothing yet foreboding scene where the two lead characters are lying on the ground after sex, prospective femme fatale Wanda mentions to her beau that she wants to go on a journey, so protagonist Severin asks her if she will sign a contradict that he has written to make him her slave, cuckold, personal gardener, and all-around personal bitch boy so long as she agrees to become his ‘Venus in Furs’ and regularly whip him while wearing nothing but a fur coat. Notably, as written in the source novel: “Venus in this abstract North, in this icy Christian world, has to creep into huge black furs so as not to catch cold.”   Of course, Christ's presence is totally absent from the film and Wanda ultimately becomes Severin's dark goddess in a hermetic sadomasochistic world somewhere between heaven and hell, though most viewers will certainly see it as more of the latter.

 Although Wanda is initially reluctant to go along with Severin’s warped fetish-based fantasy, she ultimately gives in and eventually comes to love the power she holds over her increasingly weak and meek (non)lover, who she soon naturally begins to lose all empathy for, as no sane woman can genuinely respect a feeble man who takes orders from a member of the fairer sex. As Wanda’s slave and servant, Severin is forced to drop his aristocratic title and take on the common servant name ‘Gregor,’ which he is proud to be called to the point where he gets rather mad when his malevolent mistress mistakenly calls him by his real noble name. As Severin explains via narration, he developed his rather idiosyncratic tendencies when he was a young man after a distant aunt of his tied him up and whipped him until he begged for her forgiveness and kissed her feet in a life-changing experience that, to quote the protagonist, made him realize, “A fierce passion was awakened in me and ever since my aunt has been the most attractive woman in the whole world.” As Severin also explains, “At the age of ten, I laid my hands on a copy of THE LEGENDS OF THE GREAT MARTYRS. I read it with a revulsion bordering on voracious ecstasy.” While a handsome nobleman, Severin has dedicated his life to drawing sadomasochistic images and he is not even that good at that, or as he describes, “I live as I paint and write. I progress no further than an intention. A plan…A first act…A first line. Such people just happen to exist…People that start all kinds of things, but never finish anything. I am someone like that…A dilettante.” Unquestionably, as his undying dedication to being debased by a devilish dame demonstrates, Severin is only truly motivated by being brutally whipped by a beauteous babe wearing a fancy fur coat. In fact, Severin is so dedicated to his contract with Wanda that he makes a mockery of his noble bearing by carrying out proletarian jobs that include serving drinks to his master and giving her baths, mopping floors, and tending to a garden, among various other dull and tedious forms of unskilled labor. While in public, Wanda walks Severin around like a dog on a leash that is hooked to his nipples.  While it seems like Severin will accept any and every form of degradation from waywardly wanton wench Wanda, the protagonist ultimately learns that every man has his limits when it comes to receiving abuse from a brutish blonde beastess.

 While Severin is so severely and unwaveringly masochistic that he allows a trio of topless negresses to hunt him down and hook him to a cart like he is a horse so that he can give them a ride, the protagonist begins to feel some real internal torture when Wanda forces him to track down a marginally handsome and masculine Greek aristocrat (Raymond Thiry) that she has become infatuated with so that she can go on a date with him. Ultimately, Severin becomes extremely angry when he realizes that Wanda is simultaneously afraid of and infatuated with the Greek, who is depicted as a Byronic hero in the novel and who gives her the sort of martial masculinity that she hopelessly craves and the protagonist completely lacks. When Severin calls Wanda out on her infatuation with the other man and she responds by stating, “I will torment you until you hate me,” the protagonist becomes so irked that he falls out of his ‘Gregor’ character, grabs his ‘master’ by the throat, and forces her to get on her knees, thus momentarily obtaining the little lady’s respect again for the first time since the two began their master-slave relationship. That night, Severin suffers a nightmare that foretells his brutal fate and pathetically complains to Wanda that, “I dreamt you betrayed me.” The next day, Wanda ties Severin to a large pillar and asks him, “Do you still love me?” to which the protagonist replies in a groveling manner, “Insanely. You’re divine.” After a period of time of leaving Severin tied to the pillar by himself, Wanda returns, though she brings two friends that include a Sapphic lover and the stoic Greek. Needless to say, Severin feels betrayed and demands that he be released as he refuses to be beaten by anyone else aside from his mistress, so his master’s lesbo lover reads the protagonist’s contract that gives Wanda the full right to do with him whatever she sees fit, including allowing him to be brutalized by a rival male. Despite begging “not him,” Wanda gives the Greek the whip and the stoic fellow subsequently begins violently beating the protagonist. After Wanda and her carpet-muncher friend drop their fur coats and walk out of the torture room completely naked, the Greek brands the protagonist in a conclusion that is more delightfully dark than von Sacher-Masoch’s novel. 

 Notably, the real-life collaborative filmmaking relationship between Venus in Furs co-directors Maartje Seyferth and Victor Nieuwenhuijs does not seem all that different from the lead characters in the film, as while the former is responsible for ‘dictating’ to the actors what to do and penning most of their scripts (aka creating the oftentimes fetishistic filmic ‘fantasies’), the latter is somewhat the ‘servant’ and certainly the laborer as the man responsible for most of the technical aspects of the work, including the cinematography (in fact, Nieuwenhuijs is responsible for shooting every single one of their films). Of course, whatever the dynamics of their romantic relationship, I think it is rather revealing that Seyferth and Nieuwenhuijs would opt to adapt von Sacher-Masoch’s novella as their first feature film, as most men would probably be too embarrassed to co-direct a film with their partner where the male protagonist is a macabre masochistic cuckold who is violently whipped and branded by his lover's new ultra-masculine male fuck-buddy. In terms of its pleasantly preternatural structure, refreshing faithfulness to its source material, consistently oneiric essence, and erotic yet dark and forlorn aesthetic prowess, Venus in Furs is quite arguably Seyferth and Nieuwenhuijs’ most immaculate work to date. It should also be noted that the film is faithful to the message of von Sacher-Masoch’s source novel in regard to the perennial war between the sexes as reflected in protagonist Severin’s words, “That woman, as nature has created her, and man at present is educating her, is man's enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work.”  Of course, history has proven that von Sacher-Masoch was wrong in regard to his belief that both sexes can become companions when women are “equal in education and work,” as modern career-obsessed Occidental woman more or less acts if she no longer needs man and even resents him, hence the increasing proliferation of S&M/BDSM and cuckold porn.  Undoubtedly, it was to my great surprise that the novel features almost Weininger-esque criticisms of the fairer sex like “Woman’s character is characterlessness,” which are mostly expressed in a subtle and somewhat esoteric visual fashion in the film. As someone that finds cuckolds to be the height of emasculation and spiritual castration, I certainly could not relate to the pathetic figure of Severin, yet Venus in Furs ultimately proved to be an exquisitely erotic celluloid experience that brings a sort of moribund and decaying spirit to classical Occidental pulchritude, as a work that seems like it was directed by the sadomasochistic deathrock-obsessed bastard brood of Teutonic sculptor Arno Breker and true cinematic avant-gardist Frans Zwartjes.

-Ty E