Feb 14, 2015

The Pointsman

It seems that everyone who has ever watched and wrote about the rather whimsical and somewhat elusive quasi-‘magical realist’ cinematic work De wisselwachter (1986) aka The Pointsman directed by Dutch auteur Jos Stelling (The Illusionist, Het Meisje en de Dood aka The Girl and Death) has a different opinion about what the film is actually about, but I personally found the message of the film to be fairly obvious, though that might just be because I am an unrepentant misogynist who has a low opinion of most of female kind and thus do not have as hard of a time as most males do in terms of spotting the conspiratorial behavior of malevolent women of the ‘penis flytrap’-oriented sort.  Directed by a true autodidact who obtained his initial fame from his brutal debut feature Mariken van Nieumeghen (1974)—a more or less ‘homemade’ work based on the popular sixteenth-century Dutch miracle play of the same name that Stelling dedicated five years of pre-production and almost another two years shooting to (in fact, he began planning the film in 1966, so it was a sort of long-in-the-making ‘dream project’)—The Pointsman is a largely dialogue-less work featuring two main quasi-lovers who do not even speak the same language, thus making for a work that some might describe as ‘pure cinema,’ at least in the eccentrically tragicomedic Dutch sense. Auteur Stelling notoriously hated Dutch filmmakers who attempted to make films in a Hollywood style and thus reacted accordingly with his gritty and even grotesque debut Mariken van Nieumeghen, which the importance of in the context of the history of filmmaking in the Netherlands was notably described as follows in Elsevier magazine: “…this is a Dutch film not trying gaspingly to follow fashionably foreign trends. A film that (despite its technical imperfection) feels so bog-ore Dutch, that one amazingly wonders what other native filmmakers have been doing up until now.” Of course, distinctly Dutch filmmakers like Frans Zwartjes (Visual Training, Pentimento) and Adriaan Ditvoorst (De blinde Fotograaf aka The Blind Photographer, De Witte waan aka White Madness) existed before the release of Mariken van Nieumeghen, but the works of these uncompromising avant-garde filmmakers were much less accessible to mainstream Dutch audiences, thus Stelling is important in the sense that he proved that indigenous films could be made in the Netherlands that were accessible and popular with natives but might confuse foreign audiences due to their distinctly Dutch persuasions. Luckily, unlike other popular Dutch auteur like Paul Verhoeven and, to a lesser extent, Theo van Gogh (who went from making subversive avant-garde works to dialogue-heavy quasi-chamber pieces), Stelling has more or less stayed true to his totally original yet decidedly Dutch approach to filmmaking and The Pointsman is arguably his greatest and most insanely idiosyncratic cinematic accomplishment, as a sort of darkly mirthful and aesthetically resplendent (anti)romance that puts into question the meaning of love and the impossibility of both genders ever living in complete harmony. A sort of tragicomedic parable about how it only takes one beauteous broad to effortlessly, albeit cryptically, completely rupture the equilibrium of a male society and turn a visceral male beast into a sex-obsessed slave of the meek and ultimately suicidal sort, Stelling’s film manages to depict male-female relations in the most primitive yet hermetically humored sense. Shot in idyllic pastoral Scotland and set in an unmentioned pre-modern time period before the rise of feminism and the counterculture movement, The Pointsman—a work loosely based on the 1981 Jean-Paul Franssens novella of the same name—is like the otherworldly outdoor aesthetics of Tarkovsky meets a more philistine-oriented approach to the sexual politics of Fassbinder meets a distinctly Dutch take on the physical humor of Buster Keaton. 

 A classically beautiful French-speaking woman (Stéphane Excoffier) in a striking cunt-chic redcoat falls asleep on a train and makes the mistake of getting off said train when it stops after she wakes up and assumes that she has arrived at her desired destination, thus leaving her stranded in the Scottish highlands after the locomotive randomly starts again.  Unquestionably an archetypical member of the fairer sex, the Woman has tons of unnecessary luggage with her, including a vintage babydoll, a phonograph, and half a dozen or so large suitcases that she clearly has a hard time carrying on her own. The Woman is stranded in the middle of nowhere at a place which only contains a small building where trains are switched to other tracks by the eponymous protagonist (Jim van der Woude of Stelling’s The Illusionist and Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books (1991)). While the Woman is the blatant ‘beauty’ of the film, the protagonist is certainly the ‘beast’ as a boorish yet unintentionally amusing fellow who eats with his hands like an uncultivated caveman and carries around a shotgun like it’s his cock.  While the protagonist is good, if not sometimes belligerent, with his shotgun when need be, his cock is unquestionably comatose as a result of living in a remote all-male environment for such a longtime. When the Woman meets the Pointsman, she first vainly looks at her compact mirror to check her appearance, not realizing the protagonist is a nearly middle-aged virgin who would never notice her sensual lipstick and whose sexual urgings have been long dormant as a consequence of his somewhat strange form of employment and particularly primitive lifestyle. By doing brazenly belligerent things like unloading his shotgun inside his house to kill uninvited rats scampering around his certainly humble abode and eating greasy meat with his discernibly dirty hands like a uncivilized vulgarian, the Pointsman somewhat scares the Woman at first, though she also seems annoyed by the fact that he seems to be totally sexually disinterested in her, so she takes it upon herself to change that by using distinctly feminine allurement tactics so that she can become the protagonist's object of unwavering worship. Of course, over the time, the Pointsman’s penis will awaken and a tragicomedic mating ritual will commence that will ultimately have deleterious and even murderous consequences that ultimately demonstrate why women, especially stunning ones, are one of the most dangerous things for a man's health. 

 When an elderly friend who works for the railroad company comes by the protagonist's home, he semi-cryptically tells him regarding the Woman “I know who she is” and then tells a strange and borderline nonsensical story about himself (which he attempts to obfuscate to save himself from embarrassment by describing it as being about a friend instead of himself) regarding how he once blew all his money on an expensive hooker. Regarding his seemingly magical erotic encounter with the hooker, he old man says, “It smelled of fresh moss,” which the Pointsman takes quite literally as demonstrated by curious actions he will take towards the end of the film. When a four-eyed ‘fascistic’ mailman (Josse De Pauw of Dominique Deruddere’s classic 1987 Bukowski adaptation Crazy Love) that sports a Gestapo-esque black leather trench-coat comes by the Pointsman’s place, he immediately begins to hassle the Woman while simultaneously flirting with her in a preposterously transparent way.  Although the Pointsman and Mailman are apparently friends, the Woman will transform them into murderously violent enemies.  While initially apathetic towards her, the Pointsman becomes afraid of and eventually intrigued by the Woman, who laps up any attention she is given, as she clearly enjoys being the only woman in an all-man environment despite the fact that she is a cultured urban dame and they are exceedingly dumb and unconscious rugged rural shack-dwelling hicks. When the Pointsman’s old man friend notices he has taken a liking to the Woman, who he clearly thinks is a manipulative cosmopolitan whore, he warns the protagonist, “She probably lives in a city. She’ll get you into trouble. Give her some money and send her away! The mailman has a grudge against her. I’m warning you. She’ll eat your sweets too.” Of course, the pussy-obsessed Pointsman does not listen, but instead scares his friends away with his shotgun and preposterously destroys all of his money, as if it will prevent the lady from ever leaving. 

 When it comes to sex, the Pointsman seems erotically autistic as demonstrated by the fact that he annoys the Woman by burying his head in her crotch like a child attempting to reenter his mother's womb, as if he does not yet know that penises go inside of vaginas.  Notably, the protagonist has an old portrait of his mother (which is actually, rather humorously, obviously lead actor van der Woude dressed in drag) hanging on the wall in his house that he constantly looks at, as if attempting to gain some sort of spiritual guidance from his assumedly deceased progenitor.  Later on, the Pointsman decides to strip off all his clothes and surprise the Woman in bed, but upon entering her room he feels terribly ashamed, covers his dangling flaccid genitals with his hand, and runs away in a most moronic manner. When the protagonist eventually develops enough instinctive knowhow to actually seduce the Woman, he becomes paranoid just before he vaginally penetrates her after hearing someone laughing in a most sinister fashion outside. As it turns out, the mischievous Mailman was the one doing the laughing and he has come to ‘rape’ the Woman. While the Pointsman is outside looking for the person that was laughing at him, the Mailman enters his home and begins cornering the Woman, who is clearly afraid of being sexually ravaged by the sadistic nerd. When the Pointsman runs home after noticing the Mailman’s motorcycle hidden behind some bushes, he finds the postal worker cornering the visibly petrified Woman, so he shoots out the window of the home to scare the intruder, who subsequently smirks at the protagonist to demonstrate that he thinks he is a pansy who does not have the testicular fortitude to kill him. Ultimately, the Woman demands that the Pointsman shoot the Mailman by screaming “Shoot!” twice in French, so being the cuckolded male ‘knight’ who wants to save the ‘princess’ from the figurative dragon, he does, thus instantly killing the prick postal worker and leaving blood plastered against the wall of his dilapidated homestead. After burying the corpse of the Mailman, the ungrateful Woman, who just coerced a man to kill his friend yet won’t give up any pussy, becomes afraid and demands that she be allowed to leave, so the Pointsman pulls out his trusty shotgun and imprisons her in his home.  While it is a given that women love to lead men on, no matter how big of ugly losers they are, to feed their own exceedingly vain sense of narcissism, it is another thing for a man to kill another man at the urging of a woman who does not feel the need to repay him for committing such an irreparably ungodly act.

 Eventually, the Woman submits to the Pointsman in what is one of the most absurdly anticlimactic, pathetic, sad, and just plain dead and Fremdscham-inducing ‘pity fuck’ scenes in film history.  Of course, it is not just a mere pity fuck, as the Woman mainly does it so that she can be released from the literal and figurative imprisonment of the Pointsman, who has made the horrible mistake of putting pussy on a pedestal, which no female respects and ultimately became the main source of the protagonist's grand misfortune. After the superlatively sad sex, the Woman goes outside and waits for the train while the Pointsman begins gathering moss, which he strangely covers his entire home with. While the Pointsman pulls his gun on the Woman when she goes to get on the train when it finally arrives after a year or so of cabin-fever-inducing semi-captivity, she ultimately gets away in the end after the Pointsman finally accepts that lady does not want him and certainly does not feel the same way about him as he feels about her. Ultimately, the lethally lovelorn Pointsman commits a sort of ritualistic suicide by lying on a moss bed that he has created for himself and goes to sleep permanently. As the seasons pass, the Pointsman’s body becomes symbolically covered in cobwebs and eventually snow. In the final scene, the Woman smiles after capturing a fly that was resting on her hand in a symbolic scenic reflecting the ease in which the female character ‘spun her web’ and ultimately trapped and sucked dry her rather naive male prey. Notably, Ms. Beauty touches her stomach during the last scene as if to indicate she is pregnant with the bastard son of the figurative Beast. 

 Undoubtedly, The Pointsman has to feature the most unconventional, hermetic, subtle, and esoterically manipulative femme fatale in cinema history, as a woman who does not even speak the same language as the protagonist yet manages to completely destroy him with a most impressing ease and elegance. While the film can be seen as a sort of cryptically misogynistic work of Dutch magical realism, I think the film also glorifies beautiful women in the sense that the female lead holds special arcane powers that few men can fathom, or at least that is the way Stelling’s flick depicts it. For instance, the older and thus wiser man in the film knows that the gorgeous woman is dangerous to the titular protagonist but he cannot really articulate why. Additionally, from the vulgarly obvious flirting techniques of the four-eyed Mailman to the pathetic failed attempts by the protagonist in regard to the art of sexual initiation, The Pointsman ultimately features an almost wholly unflattering depiction of mankind and its completely hopeless naivety in regard to the way of women. Considering the pathetic state of contemporary Western males today as reflected by so-called ‘pick-up artists’ and the growing so-called male rights movement, Stelling’s film is ultimately more relevant today than when it was first released nearly three decades ago, though obviously contemporary audiences will probably find the work even less accessible than those filmgoers that saw it when it was first released in 1986. While Dutch film academics like Bas Agterberg have gone as far as to describe The Pointsman as “arguably Stelling’s best film, featuring the perfect synthesis of theme and style,” American film critics were largely bewildered by the work, with Janet Maslin complaining regarding the film in her April 8, 1988 review, “There is no easy way to ascertain what the Dutch film maker Jos Stelling has in mind with THE POINTSMAN, and not much reason to try.” Unquestionably, there is certainly something satisfying about a European films that manage to dumbfound obscenely obnoxious and arrogant overrated Hebraic yank film critics, as it demonstrates that the directors are making works that cannot be understood by mere over-indulged yet sterile intellects, but by something more innate and organic that reflects a truly national cinema. 

-Ty E

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