Jan 8, 2015

Lulu (2005)

The Dutch married filmmaking team Victor Nieuwenhuijs and Maartje Seyferth (Crepuscule, Vlees aka Meat) demonstrated early on in their iconoclastic careers a special fondness for old decadent German-language literary works as indicated by their darkly erotic black-and-white directorial debut Venus in Furs (1995), which was naturally an adaptation of the 1870 S&M/BDSM-themed novella of the same name by Austrian mischling writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose surname was where the word “masochism” was derived. Apparently, the Netherland’s then most subversive filmmaker, South African-born auteur Aryan Kaganof, co-wrote the screenplay for Venus in Furs, but Nieuwenhuijs and Seyferth decided to drop most of his ideas and created what is regarded as the most cinematically faithful adaptation of von Sacher-Masoch’s (in)famous novel. For their second feature, Lulu (2005), the couple decided to adapt proto-expressionist Frank Wedekind’s Lulu plays, but unlike with Venus in Furs, they decided to take a more ‘loose’ approach to their source material that also takes influence from French decadent poet Charles Baudelaire, among various other influences. Needless to say, aside from being a much darker and subversive take on Wedekind’s play than G.W. Pabst’s German Expressionist silent work Pandora’s Box (1929) starring Louise Brooks, the only thing that both works have in common is that the eponymous femme fatale is a seemingly soulless and satanically seductive siren and both films are set in ‘evil’ and deadly decadent worlds where love is mistaken for desire and obsession and where a person's value is basely solely on their material wealth and/or physical attractiveness. The ‘neo-Gothic’ Lulu of Nieuwenhuijs and Seyferth is easily one of the most fierce femme fatales of cinema history as a nefarious force of both conscious and unconscious (self)destruction that sinisterly uses her overt sensuality to destroy any person that crosses her particularly pernicious path, but especially the lead character in the film. Indeed, the film mainly revolves around a mysterious dinner set up by a rich coke-addled publisher of the somewhat overweight sort that has fallen under Lulu’s ultimately lethal spell. As the viewer soon learns, the titular character Lulu has figuratively fucked over the protagonist by seducing and/or literally fucking virtually everyone of his friends and family members, including his painter son and priest brother. More of an intentionally exaggerated archetype and walking and talking ‘Penis Flytrap’ than an actual character, Lulu is the living embodiment of erratic and violent feminine sexuality, as a sort of lethally lecherous gypsy lady that puts all the various big bosomed femme fatales of Brian De Palma’s Hitchcock ‘homages’ to abject shame in terms of carnal cruelty, calculating destruction, and nihilistically decadent self-destruction. 

 A majorly melancholic work where love is all but an illusion and sex is no more meaningful than a trip to the bathroom, Lulu is surely one of the greatest cinematic love(less) romances ever made and a work that unwittingly captures the spirit of an entire age. Lulu begins with the protagonist Leon Mortier (played by Titus Muizelaar, who has starred in most of Nieuwenhuijs and Seyferth’s works) dragging Lulu (Vlatka Simac), who is sporting a red kimono with nothing else underneath, down the stairs of his fancy mansion and then putting a gun to the little lady’s head, but he stops when she uses her almost supernatural erotic powers to stop him and the two begin to kiss. While Leon and Lulu kiss, a gun goes off and the viewer will not find out who was actually shot until the climatic end of the film. Featuring a somewhat nonlinear fashion comprised of random flashbacks, one learns that Leon randomly met Lulu while driving down a wooded road. Without saying anything, Lulu entered the passenger side of Leon’s car while baring her thigh, as if to advertise the reward the driver would get for picking her up. Literally as soon as Leon started driving again, he runs over an old gypsy who he also takes back to his mansion with him. As the viewer eventually finds out, the old gypsy is Lulu’s violin-playing father and the two have set Leon up to leech off his wealth and life of hedonistic luxury. While comprised of many flashbacks, the film is mainly set during an extravagant dinner that Leon has strategically set up so that he can confront all of his friends and family members regarding their various romantic rendezvouses with Lulu, who the protagonist has deeply fallen in love with, or so he thinks. While she rarely talks, Lulu easily emotionally manipulates Leon in a variety of strange psychopathic ways, including ‘attempting’ suicide by nonsensically trying to drown herself in the protagonist’s fountain. Of course, everything she does seems to be for the benefit of her fat, bald, and repugnantly swarthy untermensch gypsy father who she seems to be having an incestuous relationship with as demonstrated by the fact that the old man has no problem stroking his daughter’s completely bare body in front of Leon, as if to demonstrate that she is his property, as well as sole true love. 

 If all the characters in Lulu have something in common, it is that they are miserable weltschmerz-racked individuals living in a sort of metaphysical hell who engage in any act of hedonism they can, no matter what the consequences, in a vain attempt to bring some temporary solace to their seemingly impenetrable melancholy and forlornness. Leon suffers the delusion that he has somehow transcended this bout of malignant melancholia due to his dubious love for Lulu, but he is really just deluding himself, as he does not really know her and she couldn't care less if he dropped dead as demonstrated by the cold and cruel yet completely fitting conclusion of the film. While Lulu is fondling her unclad body in bed with a small dagger, Leon confesses to her “you don’t know what you stir in me” and then tells her “I don’t like these games” regarding to the little lady’s sadomasochistic blade fetish, so she replies by stating that he is “scared of everything. Of love, of death, of pain.” As the guests arrive at varying times for the dinner, Leon approaches each one of them and warns them to stay away from Lulu, especially his much more handsome son Alec (played by Hugo Metsers, who is co-director Seyferth’s son from a previous marriage) who is a painter that screwed the femme fatale while using her as one of his subjects while his middle-aged female manager masturbated while voyeuristically watching from afar. A swarthy scumbag named Franco (André Arend van de Noord) also got the opportunity to share carnal knowledge with Lulu because Leon owed him money. Needless to say, Leon does not want Franco fucking Lulu anymore, so he pays him the the rest of the money that he owes him at the dubious get-together and the dirtbag leaves before dinner is even served, even leaving behind his dimwitted bimbo date Zita (Georgina Verbaan), who later makes a failed attempt at getting into Alec's pants. Most bizarrely, Leon’s priest brother Maurits (Maiko Kemper) manhandled Lulu when she was praying in desperation, but it seems the unholy holy man failed to seal the deal as far as coitus is concerned. Clearly, Leon is either a man plagued with pernicious family members or there is just something about Lulu that turns people into sleazy traitors. If one thing is for sure, Leon’s mansion is more morally bankrupt than the red light district in Amsterdam.  Somewhat strangely (or not so considering the innate irrationality of femininity), Lulu seems to have no reason to play the craven carnal games that she does aside from possibly wanting to help her repugnant father as reflected in one seemingly unimportant yet ultimately rather revealing scene where the femme fatale decides to pour out a bag containing a large quantity of cocaine she has stolen from Leon while she is riding on a ferris wheel, thus reflecting her innately nihilistic character and seeming love of senseless destruction.

 After various failed attempts at dinner are interrupted by the main character who brought everyone together, Leon finally announces to his increasingly agitated guests, “see this dinner as a metaphor…As a reflection of your attitude towards me. I once cherished your friendship…But it has become painful to me. Your only motivation to be here tonight is Lulu.” Of course, most of the guests are rather offended and those that haven’t already left begin to do so then. Before Leon’s rather rude announcement, it is revealed that the violinist playing the horrendous weepy gypsy music is Lulu’s father—the same man the protagonist ran over—and he threatens Leon with the remark, “you fuck my girl and I make problems,” so, like Franco, he is also paid off. Not exactly a religious man, Leon reads the following line from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (1857) aka The Flowers of Evil, “Once our heart has gathered the grapes from its vineyard, living is an evil. That’s a secret known to all,” at the beginning of the film and by the end the viewer knows these words ring true. Meanwhile, Lulu complains, “I only feel melancholic. There’s nothing left here…Nothing that holds me here” and describes how she feels like she is being stabbed in the stomach, so she attempts suicide by stripping off all her clothes and absurdly drowning herself by lying face first in Leon’s outdoor fountain. When Leon runs out and saves Lulu from drowning, she merely gives a sinister smirk, as if she just did to upset her pseudo-lover/sugar daddy. Ultimately, Leon decides enough is enough when he sees his son Alec and Lulu having sex on one of the various surveillance cameras he has hidden in his home and pulls a gun on the two love birds in a rather awkward situation of coitus interruptus. After telling Lulu how she has ruined his life and destroyed all of his personal relationships, Leon drags her out of the room, down the stairs, and puts his revolver to her head like he plans to blow her brains out, but she uses her sinister powers of allurement to stop him from pulling the trigger and the two begin to passionately kiss. Needless to say, Lulu turns the gun on Leon while they’re kissing and kills him, which is witnessed by Alec. While Alec is in shock and comforting his dead daddy, Lulu’s bloated rodent-like father comes downstairs, puts a trench coat on his daughter, and the two leave the house without incident. Of course, Lulu and her father probably plan to scam another rich overweight cuckold. 

 A work featuring uniquely unsavory gypsies as the ultimate Svengali-like swindlers and cold killers and a femme fatale that epitomizes the subtly sinister nature of the more evil members of the fairer sex, Lulu is shockingly politically incorrect for a contemporary Dutch flick, thus putting it in welcome company with the work of avant-garde auteur Frans Zwartjes (Visual Training, Pentimento) and Aryan Kaganof (Kyodai Makes the Big Time, The Dead Man 2: Return of the Dead Man). Not surprisingly, co-directors Victor Nieuwenhuijs and Maartje Seyferth are hardly even known in their homeland of the Netherlands despite the fact that the latter’s father was famous Dutch painter/sculptor Constant Nieuwenhuijs (in fact, Nieuwenhuijs and Seyferth directed a short entitled New Babylon de Constant (2005) depicting the artist’s architecture models of the futuristic utopian anti-capitalist city ‘New Babylon’), thus reflecting the conformist nature of contemporary Dutch cinema which, aside from Edwin ‘The Dutch Fassbinder’ Brienen (Terrorama!, Last Performance), is mostly sterile and reflects the historically artistically revolutionary nation’s cultural decline. The fact that Lulu was directed by a married couple makes it all the more baffling, especially considering the film’s distinctly unflattering depiction of both genders, but especially females as reflected in the eponymous lead, who makes the Lulu played by alpha-flapper Louise Brooks in Pabst’s Pandora’s Box seem like a sensitive sweetheart by comparison. Indeed, while I can think of a couple examples of husband and wife directors, like Messiah of Evil (1973) aka Dead People co-directed by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz and the oeuvre of commie frogs Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet (The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, Moses and Aaron), that managed to successfully direct films with each other, none seem to have such a discernible and iconoclastic ‘auteur’ signature than that of Nieuwenhuijs and Seyferth, whose works unequivocally prove that spouses can do more together than just make babies and have nasty divorces as so many people seem to do nowadays. Apparently, not unlike Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg with their counterculture masterpiece Performance (1970), the couple shares their directing duties by Seyferth largely working with the actors while Nieuwenhuijs deals with the camera and more technical aspects of filmmaking, thus making for singular cinematic works that feature nuanced understandings and insights into both genders, especially in regard to sexuality, (anti)romance, mental illness, and decadence, among other timeless themes. Surely it says a lot about the directors’ own relationship when the male lead of a film is a weak, decadent, sloppy and overweight jealous cuckold and the female lead is portrayed as a sadomasochistic schemer of the decidedly deadly sort who lives to figuratively and literally kill men as depicted in Lulu. Needless to say, I was not surprised to learn that Nieuwenhuijs and Seyferth are apparently notorious for getting in huge fights and screaming matches on the set of their films. Of course, considering that their films feature long scenes of naked nubile girls, I can kind of see what Seyferth might get mad about while working on the film sets with her hubby.

-Ty E

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