Jan 21, 2015

Paranoia (1967)

While highly influenced during his formative years by the cinematic revolution of the La Nouvelle Vague, Dutch avant-garde auteur Adriaan Ditvoorst (Lucifer, De witte waan aka White Madness) adamantly rejected the Marxist-Leninist politics endorsed by the likes of filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and in Les Cahiers du Cinéma as he was anti-authority on a more metaphysical level and considered such far-leftist ideologies to be the height of submitting to authority and conformity. Ironically, many top card-carrying commie European arthouse filmmakers like Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Joris Ivens were so impressed by Ditvoorst’s 22-minute experimental directorial debut Ik kom wat later naar Madra (1965) aka That Way to Madra that they regarded him as the most important talent working in the Netherlands at the time. With his innately incendiary and iconoclastic feature-length debut Paranoia (1967), the filmmaker would not only reveal his aesthetic influence from the Frog New Wave, but also his seething cynicism towards the pseudo-rebelliousness and trendy far-left politics of the time, as well as the taboo of the collective guilt of the Dutch for failing to do much to stop the horrors of World War II. A decidedly dark yet almost sadistically sardonic depiction of absolution through self-destruction, Ditvoorst’s devastating transcendental debut depicts a deranged Dutch veteran with a persecution complex who has not recovered from the Second World War and falls deeper and deeper into insanity after suffering the delusion that he is a fugitive Waffen-SS soldier who escaped from an internment camp after the war. Based on the short story of the same name written by Willem Frederik Hermans, who Ditvoorst butted heads with when the writer visited the set of the production (though the director would adapt another Hermans story for his subsequent feature De Blinde Fotograaf aka The Blind Photographer), Paranoia was made when the auteur was only 27-years-old and is surely a formative work, yet it features most of the major themes and idiosyncrasies of Ditvoorst's later film as the director’s sort of equivalent to Godard’s Breathless (1960) aka À bout de souffle, albeit all the more subversive and iconoclastic. Like a stripped down no bullshit Dutch Taxi Driver, except without redemption, meets a nihilistic The Tenant, as channeled through the warped and uprooted psyche of the post-WWII generation, Ditvoorst expresses the collective guilt of the Netherlands for the Nazi takeover in a rather visceral fashion that takes no prisoners. As lead actor Kees van Eyck stated regarding the character he played in Paranoia and its connection to the director in the documentary De domeinen Ditvoorst (1992) aka The Ditvoorst Domains: “Adriaan clearly identified very much with the main character of the film. Given what we now know about him, growing gloomier…this identification becomes all the more harrowing.” Featuring a far-leftist protestor being run over with a car after giving a preposterously contrived one-man demonstration, a goofy parrot that yells “Heil Hitler!,” and a patently perturbed protagonist who commits suicide by jumping out of his apartment window without so much as screaming, but not before murdering his anal retentive landlord and worried waif of a girlfriend, Ditvoorst’s weltschmerz-ridden existentialist nightmare ultimately viscerally depicts the worst and darkest of the post-WWII Dutch collective unconscious. 

 Paranoia begins prosaically enough with blond protagonist Arnold Cleever (Kees van Eyck in his first and last film role) in a Dutch army uniform waiting for a train to take him to war to fight against the German invasion of May 10 1940 (The Germans completed their invasion on May 17th in an occupation that would last about five years and claim the lives of about 210,000 Dutchmen). After that, a silly Robinson Crusoe postcard appears on the screen that Arnold wrote to himself from the warfront where he complains about his uniform smelling like mothballs and being so far away from his hometown in Amsterdam. Arnold also discusses how he bumped into a woman who told him how the “whole world would blow up” and that he is deathly “afraid.” On top of the fact he absurdly sent the postcard to himself, Arnold did not even buy postage for it, hoping that “perhaps it will be delivered anyway.” Indeed, Arnold is clearly a bit “funny,” but his current state of mind is nothing compared to how his fragile sanity will progressively deteriorate after the Second World War is over. After the credits scenes, which feature shots of buildings around Amsterdam juxtaposed with the sounds of a banging acoustic guitar that almost sounds like proto-punk music, an inter-tile appears reading “Several Years Later” and Arnold is depicted at a record shop during the post-WWII era where Americanization and rock ‘n’ roll have surely left their mark on the Netherlands. As demonstrated by the fact that he seems to hear a dozen or so songs playing at once while hanging at the record shop, Arnold is clearly not of sound mind. Of course, hearing a horrid rock storm will ultimately be the least of poor Arnold’s problems. 

 While Arnold is afraid of being thrown out of his apartment, his girlfriend Anna (played by ‘Pamela Rose’ aka Pamela Koevoets, who would go on to appear in most of Ditvoorst’s subsequent films) is worried about him, stating in an overtly concerned fashion, “Because you’re so afraid…I don’t know what to say to you anymore.” Arnold attempts to calm Anna’s worries by promising, “If everything goes right, we can be married next year,” but the protagonist’s mind will completely deteriorate way before the next year and neither of the characters will be alive by the end of the film. While waiting to meet with his lard ass quasi-pornographer uncle (Paul Murk), Arnold casually flips through a newspaper and literally jumps out of his seat when he notices his picture next to an article about a fugitive Dutch Waffen-SS soldier named Cornelis Dirk van Maanen who was put in an internment camp after the Second World War, but managed to escape and has been a wanted man ever since. Arnold also reads regarding the fugitive SS man that, “Due to shellshock, he is only able to whisper when he talks,” so he spends the rest of the film talking with a whisper.  To his minor credit, Arnold has some good reason to suffer a persecution complex, as his uncle’s slutty post-MILF wife hatefully states to him, “you know I don’t like you.” When Arnold finally gets to speak with his uncle, he finds the old fat man, who is annoyed by his nephew’s incessant whispering, dining on an entire table of food that could easily feed an entire family. While the uncle is looking around for film reels to show to Arnold, the protagonist finds a revolver in a drawer and steals it. After the uncle finally finds the film reels, he shows his nephew footage of Gestapo-like Dutch cops in suave uniforms bombarding families and arresting large groups of young men. When Arnold gets home from his strange meeting with his uncle, he pretends to kill cops by pointing his new stolen revolver at photographs of police officers. 

 For the rest of the film, Arnold never leaves the apartment as he does not want to be seen as he truly believes he is the wanted Waffen-SS fugitive. Needless to say, Arnold’s bizarre behavior worries his sensitive girlfriend Anna, who is forced to buy groceries for her bat-shit crazy beau since he refuses to leave his flat. While out, Anna stops by a bar where she somberly watches an elderly couple, including an old Jewish looking woman with two broke arms (!), slow-dancing, and also spots an old man violently slaughtering his wife with a butcher knife in a nearby window. Out of nowhere, a far-leftist protestor barges into the bar and carries out a one-man demonstration where he declares “it’s a good thing there’s police,” complains that there are “31, 492 homeless people,” and then runs out into the street where he is hilariously run over by a car instantly. While sitting outside of her parent’s home while looking tragically forlorn, Anna hears her pet parrot state, “Heil! Heil! Heil Hitler!,” which somewhat upsets the girl’s fairly bourgeois father (Ton Vos of the Dutch TV series Floris (1969) starring Rutger Hauer), so he tells his daughter that his friend Wester knows her boyfriend Arnold and can attest to the fact that he has always been a weirdo. As Anna’s father remarks, according to Wester, who was once her boyfriend’s teacher, Arnold “had already been a strange boy at school. Shy of people…and didn’t hang out with anybody.” After revealing to Anna that Arnold was never in the Waffen-SS, her father also describes how his friend Wester was in the same army unit as Arnold and the boy apparently never recovered from the experience of the Second World War. Indeed, as Anna’s father states regarding the pathetic failure of the Dutch army, “The fact is, they had to beat it before they had seen one German…It got to Arnold so hard, he took blame for all the crimes committed by the SS.” 

 When Anna gets back to Arnold’s apartment, he accuses her of being involved in a conspiracy against him and screwing his much hated elderly landlord, absurdly stating, “I can always smell it when you have been with him.” Needless to say, Anna gets fed up with Arnold’s schizophrenic bizarre, hits him in the face with a bouquet of flowers, and tells him he is not an SS man and that he needs to see a doctor. While snooping around her boyfriend’s apartment, Anna eventually finds the newspaper article that Arnold told her about regarding the Waffen-SS man, but the picture looks nothing like her beau. Despite the fact that Anna seems extremely afraid of her boyfriend and Arnold seems a tad bit too schizophrenically paranoid to be intimate with another person, the two end up making passionate love for the first and last time in the film. Unfortunately, carnal pleasure does nothing to calm Arnold’s deleterious paranoia and pathological nervousness and the loony lad soon locks Anna, who is completely naked, in a room where she routinely cries for him to let her out, but he never does. When Arnold’s landlord and a cop show up to evict the antihero from the apartment, he reacts rather drastically by shooting both of the men in a disturbingly calm fashion. Of course, Anna cries when she hears the gunshots, so Arnold shoots her too. After his fairly calmly executed murder spree, Arnold commits suicide by jumping out of his window. 

 As Paranoia lead Kees van Eyck stated regarding director Adriaan Ditvoorst in the documentary The Ditvoorst Domains: “Adriaan was strongly anti-establishment. He rebelled against everything organized or official. The church, bureaucracy, government. He strongly opposed it all. Not with political theories. It was more of an emotional matter.” Indeed, Ditvoorst's directorial debut features none of the sort of groveling to far-left ideologies that were especially popular among European arthouse directors of that zeitgeist, thus demonstrating that the auteur was one of the very few true wholly subversive, anarchistic, and individualistic filmmakers of his time. As French actor/writer Michel Delahaye—a fellow who, like his comrades of the French New Wave, got his start in film writing for Les Cahiers du Cinéma—states in The Ditvoorst Domains regarding the difference between Ditvoorst and his commie frog comrades: “Ditvoorst’s PARANOIA, like LES CAHIERS, displays fascination with destruction. A fascination with destruction and submission, as was the trend then. At that time, the trend was Marxist-Leninism where individuality doesn’t count. We submitted totally. LES CAHIERS surrendered to the enemy. We collaborated with the enemy.” 

 Notably, in terms of themes and aesthetics, Ditvoorst’s first feature most closely resembles the once-banned Italian avant-garde work A mosca cieca (1966) aka The Blind Fly aka Ricordati di Haron directed by avant-gardist turned exploitation auteur Romano Scavolini, which was lauded by none other than Guido futurist/fascist poet Giuseppe Ungaretti.  Like Paranoia, A Blind Fly is a gritty black-and-white work featuring erratic editing and a virtually nonexistent plot that centers around a morbidly melancholy young man of the mentally degenerate sort who has a dubious relationship with his loving girlfriend and who steals a handgun which he plays around with in a masturbatory fashion before going on a senseless murder spree. As the grandson of a Dutch resistance fighter who seemed destroyed by the Second World War and who had cousins in the Dutch Waffen-SS, I found Ditvoorst’s film particularly provocative, as it made me experience a sort of tragicomedic déjà vu based on fantasies I have had regarding the wartime experiences of my ancestors from the Netherlands. As Paranoia female lead Pamela Koevoets remarked regarding the film and its relevance to her and Ditvoorst’s generation: “Our generation still lives in the shadow of the last World War. Our parents were silent. We had to stake new claims in the world. Build a new society, creature new conventions. Our generation had to do so much. We were cut loose, as though born from a black hole. You had to find your own way.” Judging by Paranoia and the rest of Ditvoorst’s dark and doomful life and oeuvre, it seems that the auteur never managed to find his way out of the black hole. 

-Ty E

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