Mar 9, 2015
I don’t typically have mixed opinions regarding filmmakers, especially auteur filmmakers, but relatively young Dutch film director Martin Koolhoven (Duister licht aka Dark Light, De Grot aka The Cave) certainly infuriates me in many regards because he indubitably has the talent to make fairly dark, idiosyncratic, and atmospheric works as demonstrated by his phantasmagorical cult flick AmnesiA (2001) yet he chooses to make intolerably kitschy pro-multicultural miscegenation schlock like Het schnitzelparadijs (2005) aka Kitchen Paradise and Happy Family (2006) aka 'n Beetje Verliefd, as well as cliché formulaic war films like Winter in Wartime (2008) aka Oorlogswinter, as if to demonstrate to the culture-distorting globalists of Hollywood that he is a good little goy who is culturally cuckolded and ethno-masochistic enough to have what it takes to be a shabbos goy protégé of some Hebraic gatekeeper like Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay. Undoubtedly, what all of Koolhoven’s cinematic works have in common—be it his delectably darkly comedic incest-themed made-for-TV anti-sitcom Suzy Q (1999) or his rather merry yet undeniably unconventional family film Bonkers (2005) aka Knetter—is that they are highly stylized and meticulously crafted pieces that were clearly directed by someone who loves directing films, so I would argue that the fairly minimalistic flick Het zuiden (2004) aka South is the sort of ‘black sheep’ of the director’s somewhat eclectic oeuvre. A work produced by Els Vandevorst (Dancer in the Dark, Dogville) and co-produced by Danish auteur Lars von Trier and his partner Peter Aalbæk Jensen for their production company Zentropa, Koolhoven’s work was originally intended as the first Dutch Dogme 95 effort, but the auteur ultimately found the rules of the avant-garde filmmaking movement to be somewhat preposterous, stating in a September 2013 interview with BelleOog regarding his decision to opt out of following the rules: “…the only reason you would do it is to ride that wave or something and I didn’t believe that wave was necessarily going to bring me anywhere because there we already a couple of them made and I could hear people say, ‘Holland comes five years later with a Dogma movie’…so there was no benefit in terms of content.” Instead, Koolhoven ultimately made a work that “followed the spirit” of Dogme 95 in terms of its realist minimalist approach, emphasis on acting, and lack of special effects, but thankfully lacks the amateurish homemade aesthetic that plagues most works associated with the film movement. Penned by female screenwriter Mieke de Jong who the auteur would later collaborate with on Bonkers and Winter in Wartime, South is indubitably Koolhoven’s most dejecting and upsetting work and certainly not something one would expect from the big hairy boorish bear of a director that directed a film as mindlessly retarded as Het schnitzelparadijs, which depicts a radically repellant Romero and Juliet story between a swarthy Moroccan and blonde Dutch beauty as something to celebrate and feel good about. Indeed, the story of a severely socially awkward laundry service manager that has serious problems in the romance department due to having only one breast as a result of a mastectomy and who ultimately decides to imprison her latest slob of a love interest in a boiler room while pathetically fantasizing about having an imaginary family that includes her bloated prisoner and the unwanted bastard baby boy of a young Russian illegal alien played by Oksana Akinshina of Lilya 4-Ever (2002), South is ultimately a piece of rather devastating Dutch style kitchen sink realist horror that reminds the viewer of the sort of malicious morally defective behavior women can get involved in when they are part of a close-knit collective group, as well as the very particular forms of cognitive dissonance that only members of the fairer sex seem to suffer. Featuring an angst-ridden anti-heroine who is absolutely beloved by her mostly uniquely unattractive third world employees because she makes their lives easy and provides them with a sense of security that they have never known before, Koolhoven’s decidedly disturbing pseudo-Dogme piece of horrifying and hapless celluloid female hysteria will certainly strike fear and disgust in any rampantly heterosexual man in its distressing depiction of female group think and feminine mental derangement as a sort of modern Dutch lumpenprole equivalent to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), albeit minus a beauteous blonde lead and scenes of surrealist horror.
While protagonist Martje Portegies (Monic Hendrickx) is a master at ruling over the laundry service business that she manages and is well loved by her colorful assortment of third world female employees, her personal life is virtually nonexistent as she has found it hard to reintegrate into the dating world ever since she had one of her breasts removed as the assumed result of breast cancer. Of course, as an unmarried barren woman approaching middle-age whose maternal clock is ticking, Martje was certainly more affected by the mastectomy than a married woman that has already had children and one can certainly look at her missing breast as being symbolic of the protagonist's failed womanhood as a lonely lady with a figuratively decaying womb. One day after being rudely denied a seat at a diner and being forced to eat her lunch outside while standing up and leaning against her car, Martje meets a friendly, if not fat and sloppy, truck driver named Loe de Koning (Frank Lammers) who is also eating his lunch outside and who seems romantically interested in her, but when the marginally charming chap goes inside the restaurant to get the protagonist some coffee, she pathetically panics and uses the opportunity to drive away, as she is horribly afraid of rejection and will do just about anything to avoid it. To Martje's delight, Loe later shows up at her work by happenstance to apply for a truck driving job, so the two immediately flirting with one another and the protagonist's employees even attempt to coerce her into getting romantically involved with the less than handsome truck driver. While Loe is used to driving south to hellholes like Morocco and Algeria, he impresses Martje by telling her he wants to stay local and ultimately gets the job under the assumed pretense that he will begin a love affair with the laundry joint manager. Unfortunately for shameless horndog Loe, who is actually married, he has no clue that Martje is somewhat unhinged and is looking for something more than just a simple fuckbuddy.
While Martje initially denies Loe’s rather forward romantic advances, the protagonist eventually decides to give in after the trucker incessantly reassures her that she can trust him. Of course, Martje makes the major mistake of failing to inform Loe that she is missing a breast, so when the trucker takes a peak under her shirt and finds a prosthetic boob inside her bra, he is so startled that he literally jumps back and remarks, “Jesus, I got a fright.” Needless to say, Martje is left in tears, which her Russian friend/employee Galina (Olga Louzgina) misinterprets as being the result of Loe sexually assaulting her. With Galina at the lead, Martje’s multicultural army of female employees decide to avenge their beloved boss’ honor by ganging up on Loe and locking him in a boiler room where a fat and out-of-shape fellow like him will surely have a hard time breathing. At the end of the day, Martje absurdly accuses Loe of assaulting her and decides to leave him locked in the boiler room after he offends her by comparing their disastrous failed sexual encounter to a story about how a friend of his once unwittingly brought home a tranny with a cock thinking it was a real biological woman. The next day, Martje lies to her employees by telling them that Loe is gone for good because their “action gave him a good fright” and then persuades them never to speak of the matter again. Of course, it does not take Galina long to realize that Loe is still locked in the boiler room, but she naturally decides to keep quiet about the matter.
When Martje notices a young blonde Russian named Zoya (Oksana Akinshina) randomly working at her laundry business that she has never seen or talked to before, let alone hired, she naturally becomes quite angry as the girl is an illegal immigrant without papers who has brought her newborn baby to work, but the irrationally empathetic protagonist ultimately lets her stay when the destitute Slav babe begs, “You’re a good boss. I need a good boss. Please.” When Martje learns that Zoya has not named her baby son and merely absurdly calls him “The Baby,” she becomes rather irritated and demands that the negligent young mother give her child a name, but the rebellious ruski chick refuses and tells the protagonist to name him instead. In fact, Zoya tells Martje, who envies the young mother simply because she has a child, that she would trade her baby for a mere bicycle and then tells the her that she can have her son, who the protagonist ultimately names ‘Jan’ and treats as if it is her own biological child, even attempting to breastfeed the babe with her surviving tit. Unfortunately for Loe, Martje’s new obsession with the baby only compounds her penetrating psychosis and she begins believing that she now has her own family, with the imprisoned trucker being her hubby and the bastard Slav infant being her son. Needless to say, Martje is completely infuriated when she learns that Loe has a wife after the unlucky woman, a somewhat homely blonde dame named Dorien (Ina Geerts), shows up at her work looking for her missing husband. That night, Martje decides to berate Loe, who is by now slowly but surely dying, by proclaiming that she and his wife Dorien are victims of his lecherous male chauvinist pig behavior, but the crudely charming trucker manages to fall back in her favor after pleading to her that she is the only one that matters to him and then proposes, “Let’s take the truck and go away together.” Of course, hopelessly naive Martje likes Loe’s rather romantic idea and decides the two will go “somewhere south.” Unfortunately for Loe, whose time is certainly running out, Martje wants to pick up a new wardrobe and a new realistic prosthetic breast before the trip so that she can look her best for her would-be-beau, which ultimately proves to be a death sentence for the forsaken trucker. Meanwhile, Zoya figures out that Loe is locked in the boiler room and although she could care less if the ostensible rapist trucker croaks, she is worried that she might lose her job if Martje gets busted by the cops. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Martje’s behavior becomes increasingly unpredictable to the point where Zoya has to confront her while she is having a sort of necrophiliac candlelight dinner with loverboy Loe.
Notably, Dutch filmic femme fatale Renée Soutendijk of Paul Verhoeven’s Spetters (1980) and De vierde man (1983) aka The 4th Man was originally supposed to play the lead role in South, but director Martin Koolhoven wisely decided at the last minute that she was not right for the part and subsequently gave the role to Monic Hendrickx, who ultimately earned the Golden Calf—the Dutch equivalent to an Oscar/Academy Award—for her singularly perturbing yet pathetic performance as crazed breast cancer survivor Martje. I must admit that Hendrickx certainly deserved the award as she brought a sort of seemingly authentic unnerving creepiness to the role that a more beauteous actress probably would not have been able to pull off. Certainly, in terms of tone, themes, and aesthetics, South rarely feels like a Koolhoven flick, which is something that the director himself would probably agree with as hinted by remarks he has made in interviews regarding the film. In fact, in his September 2013 interview with BelleOog, the filmmaker would reveal regarding the film: “I think of all my movies…it is the one that I least rewrote…or had the least influence on the script, because I read it and though it was, I don’t know, 80 or 90% ready…and we talked and we changed things, but not that much,” thus indicating that screenwriter Mieke de Jong was probably just as much the ‘auteur’ of the film as Koolhoven. Of course, I doubt many heterosexual males have an interest in watching, let alone directing, films about distressingly socially awkward breast cancer survivors, so I do not think it would be a stretch to describe South as Koolhoven’s most blatant ‘for hire’ artisan work, even if it is a penetrating arthouse piece that will most certainly leave a beyond bitter taste of abject discomfort in most viewers' mouths. As Koolhoven described in his interview with BelleOog, he did not like the fact that the film earned him a reputation as a dark and gloomy filmmaker, so he demanded that his screenwriter de Jong allow him to take a more ‘fun’ and ‘jovial’ approach to his next work Bonkers which, despite featuring a tragic death and a manic-depressive character, is ultimately a ‘feel good’ family flick. Like a Lifetime movie from a hysterical pre-menopausal lady lumpenprole hell that is as unflattering to certain members of the fairer sex as it is strangely empathetic, South is ultimately a film the most viewers might not necessarily ‘enjoy’ but is certainly something they will never forget. Indeed, it is hard to think of another film where a killer is depicted in a more favorable light than the male victim she pointlessly kills. While not Koolhoven’s greatest work (in my opinion, he will probably never top AmnesiA), it is most certainly his most serious, understated, and least pageantry-plagued piece. Also, I have to admit that I respect for Koolhoven for telling Lars von Trier to fuck-off and not succumbing to the cinematic golden calf of Dogme 95.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:34 PM
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