Mar 5, 2015
As far as I am concerned, a gangster flick is not a gangster flick without real live Guidos, so naturally I find Guy Ritchie flicks to be innately intolerable and find the idea of ‘Nordic gangsters’ to be somewhat absurd, even if such Aryan barbarian low-lifes exist in real-life like the cocksucking Kray twins. Naturally, I find the idea of a Dutch gangster flick to be especially absurd and not something I would be particularly interested in indulging in, at least not until I came across the startlingly aesthetically pleasing and even transcendental film De Wederopstanding van een Klootzak (2013) aka The Resurrection of a Bastard directed by graphic novelist and painter turned filmmaker Guido van Driel and starring top Dutch actor Yorick van Wageningen (Oorlogswinter aka Winter in Wartime, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Personally, I do not understand the interest in so-called ‘graphic novels’ (aka overlong comic books), so the premise of a graphic novelist cinematically adapting their own comics à la Frank Miller with Sin City (2005) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) seems about about as appetizing to me as hanging out with a bunch of autistic acne-ridden dorks playing Dungeons & Dragons or painting Warhammer miniatures for a future ‘fantasy battle,’ so there are more than just a couple reasons why van Driel’s film should be something I would not want to touch with a ten foot pole, yet the film is far from your typical piece of socially retarded beta-male nerd escapism as a rare quasi-gangster flick of the simultaneously brutal yet beauteous, as well as perturbing yet poetic, sort. As director van Driel described at iffr.com regarding the film: “I pitched the film to a producer as a mix of Tarantino and Tarkovsky. That might sound arrogant, but you shouldn't be modest if you want to sell your idea.” Needless to say, as much as I think Tarantino is a culturally cuckolded turd whose name should never be mentioned in the same sentence with a singular cinematic master artist like Tarkovsky, I could not help but watch van Driel's film.
When I hear comparisons to Tarantino I typically think of a film with preposterous pop-culture platitudes, rather repugnant negrophilia, and frivolous beta-bitch-boy fantasies and fetishes, but van Driel’s film features none of that sort of insufferable postmodern pseudo-sophistry, at least to any notable degree, as The Resurrection of a Bastard is a decidedly Dutch work set in the rural Friesland that combines magic realism and a darkly comedic take on contemporary socio-politic issues that is by no means politically correct but is certainly shockingly artfully executed, as if the director wanted to see how beautiful he could make ugly people and repugnant human actions seem. Like a Friesland Heimat-cum-gangster flick as directed by the perturbed progeny of Martin Scorsese, Adriaan Ditvoorst, and Gaspar Noé, van Driel’s undeniably ambitious debut feature surely does not seem like the first cinematic offering of a novice filmmaker who spends most of his time drawing so-called ‘graphic novels,’ but instead demonstrates a keen sensitivity towards an eclectic view of cinema history from Pasolini to Scorsese and everyone in between. Indeed, for better or worse, you will never find a more darkly farcical fever dream featuring fucked gangsters than The Resurrection of a Bastard, which ultimately makes Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2000) seem like a cheap overlong music video con that happens to be inhabited by a couple great actors. Based on a graphic novel that van Driel was contracted to write on the occasion of the 1250 anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Boniface, who was purportedly hacked to death with an axe when he made the major mistake of cutting down the then-pagan Frisians’ sacred ‘Donar’s Oak’ tree, The Resurrection of a Bastard also happens to be one of the must unconventional Germanic pagan flicks ever made. Indeed, in no other film will you find quirky references to Odin in the form of a one-eyed cat and mono-eyed negro drug dealer who lost his eye after having it vacuumed up by his comrades as punishment for stealing drugs and money.
Burly and beefy Amsterdam gangster Ronnie Bazuin (Yorick van Wageningen) is a bloody brutal bastard that has no problem smashing in the faces of children and beating women to death in front of their kids for the most minor of infractions, but after a near-death experience as a result of an assassination attempt, he becomes a completely different man, or as his rather talkative and strangely sensitive muttonchops-adorned bodyguard Janus (Juda Goslinga) states: “He’s changed completely. Like…Bruce Willis in THE SIXTH SENSE is completely different than in DIE HARD. I think something has snapped inside of him. He’s not the old Ronnie. He’s just not the old Ronnie.” The Resurrection of a Bastard opens with introducing the new and arguably spiritually improved Ronnie and his comrade Janus as they look around the Friesland town of Dokkum to find the former’s would-be assassin. Unfortunately, like most areas of Western Europe, including Friesland, Dokkum has a so-called ‘refugee’ center which is home to a young eccentric Angolan negro named Eduardo Yondo (Goua Robert Grovogui). Rather coincidentally, Eduardo subscribes to an ancient Angolan religion that, not unlike the Germanic pagan faith that the Friesians followed before they assassinated Anglo-Saxon missionary Saint Boniface in 754 and began following Christianity, emphasizes the worship of trees. Although seemingly unconnected, both gangster Ronnie and negro mechanic Eduardo will be sitting in the same exact Friesland tree together by the end of the film after fate brings the two together.
Ronnie assumes his assassin is in Dokkum because he noticed he had a ‘Dokkum Arms’ tattoo on his forearm, but while in Friesland, the gangster seems more interested in helping other people than hunting down his would be killer. Indeed, while in the middle of a conversation with Janus, Ronnie gets out of a car and saves the life of a man who subsequently accidentally sets him on fire, as if he could foresee the tragedy before it actually happened. While hanging out at a restaurant, Janus notices the curious prevalence of foreigners in Dokkum and complains to his boss, “My God, not here too? They can send all those Turks back to Morocco as far as I’m concerned […] Let me tell you something: They may integrate all the way into Volendam…and start cake biting and sack racing, I’ll never trust them. We’ll never trust them, right Ronnie? They’ve got centuries of Islam in their genes. They’ll never accept our values. They shit on them,” but Ronnie seems lost in his own world and does not pay his comrade any mind. Ironically, someone has written on the bathroom wall of the restaurant: “Foreigners, please don’t leave us behind with just the Dutch.” Of course, if most foreigners were like Eduardo, they would probably want to leave the Netherlands behind as the character seems plagued by an almost ominous metaphysical affliction that causes him to cry like a little baby for no reason and suffer bizarre panic attacks for the most petty of reasons. Eduardo’s only source of solace is listening to ethereal music via his cellphone and reading through an extremely dated auto mechanic book, which he more or less treats as his personal bible. Like his father before him, Eduardo’s dream is to own his own auto mechanic shop, but with the digitization of cars and being a poor negro prole in the Friesland, it seems more like a fantasy than something he can realize.
At about the 18 minute mark of The Resurrection of a Bastard, an inter-title appears reading “The Old Ronnie” and the viewer soon bears witness to the unhinged brutality of the eponymous antihero before he takes a bullet to the neck and becomes strangely positive and spiritually-inclined, as if his seemingly forsaken soul goes from being bearing an innately pagan essence to a Christian essence overnight. A negro associate named Stanley (Gustav Borreman) is attempting to flee town despite the fact that he owes Ronnie’s boss James Joyce (played by Jeroen Willems, who the film was dedicated to since he died in 2012 before it was released) 250,000 euros worth of pills and cash. After Ronnie pulls a large dental brace out of Stanley’s mouth in a fairly rough fashion, someone knocks on the door of the tortured drug dealer’s apartment, which causes the gangsters' much warranted paranoia to seep in. According to Stanley, the person at the door is a woman who has come by to buy his couch and fridge before he leaves town, but Ronnie finds it to be somewhat dubious that the negro would stick around the area and face being potentially tortured and/or murdered for a mere 200 euros worth of shitty outmoded furniture. Ultimately, Ronnie has his goon Jaap (played by iconoclastic Dutch cartoonist Eric Schreurs, who previously appeared in Theo van Gogh's Charley (1986) and Terug naar Oegstgeest (1987) aka Return to Oegstgeest) slam the door on the woman’s face, not realizing she has brought her small ginger son with her. When the rather annoying redhead kid, Marnix (Johan van der Pol), won’t stop crying, Ronnie screams in his face, “Shut the fuck up!” and the rather strange and seemingly spiritually-inclined boy responds by esoterically stating, “There’s a red butterfly coming from your throat,” which only all the more infuriates the boorish gangster, who violently grabs the somewhat creepy child. At this point, Marnix’s mother’s maternal instinct kicks in and she nonsensically decides to jump on Ronnie and starts biting and punching him as if she hopes to tear him to pieces, so the gangster naturally fights back by brutally beating her to death with his fists, thus leaving the redhead boy a literally and figuratively poor bastard. After killing Marnix’s mommy, Ronnie has Stanley’s eye sucked out with a vacuum cleaner, which he films and sends to his boss James Joyce as evidence that the degenerate crook dope dealer has been properly punished for his rather moronic behavior. Unfortunately for Ronnie, little does he realize that keeping Marnix alive is the worst mistake he can make, as the little lad’s Frisian grandfather will soon be coming to look for the gangster to avenge the death of his dear daughter.
Unquestionably, Ronnie suffers from a variety of peculiar pathologies that seem to make his life a living hell, but I guess that is what one should expect if they make their living regularly torturing and killing people. For example, Ronnie suffers a nightmare where a group of bald headed butchers with bloody aprons encircle around his pool while he is swimming in the rain one night and proceed to collectively attack him as if they are steroid-addled zombies. When Ronnie awakens from the sinisterly surreal nightmare in a lawn chair next to his pool, he inexplicably becomes convinced that there is a mark on one of the paving stones next to said pool, so he begins cleaning and eventually smashing the tile with a pitchfork until it is totally destroyed. Ronnie also violently attacks his wife Mara (Katrien van Beurden) for the most minor and petty of infractions. For example, when Mara forgets to squeeze the water out of a dishwater rag, Ronnie slaps her in the face and then yells at her, “Next time I’ll rip out those silicone implants and kick you out with your A-cups,” but she stuns him by replying, “I didn’t even want those breasts.” The only person that seems to scare Ronnie is his perniciously passive-aggressive and seemingly queer boss James Joyce, who at one point in the film intimidates the antihero in a semi-surreal scene by randomly shooting a bag with an undisclosed animal moving around in it. When Ronnie asks what was inside the bag, Mr. Joyce responds, “Who cares? First it was alive and now its dead.” Apparently, Joyce is not happy with the fact that Ronnie made a scene by attacking Marnix and his mother, which the antihero describes as, “collateral damage.” Ultimately, everything changes for Ronnie when he and his comrades attend a ‘White Party’ (which are typically for gays in the U.S.) and a fellow sporting a white KKK-esque mask begins following the antihero around in a suspicious manner like a predator attempting to stalk its prey. As a big burly bestial man with strong survival instincts, Ronnie knows he is being hunted, so he decides to begin hunting the hunter. After checking all the stalls in a bathroom, Ronnie takes a leak and absurdly waits to be attacked. After being mistaken for having gay tearoom sex with the masked man, Ronnie takes a bullet to the neck in what should have been a fatal attack. Unquestionably, getting shot in the neck seems like it is the best thing that ever could have happened to Ronnie as it completely humbles him and makes him appreciate every single little detail of life ranging from the strong scent of a plate of trout with pomegranate to blurry vintage photographs of waterfalls. Indeed, a hotel owner seems to sum up Ronnie's new mellow and intuitively metaphysical personal Weltanschauung when she remarks to him, “The mystery of life…is hidden in the visible and tangible. That’s what I believe.”
Eventually, the little boy Marnix whose mother Ronnie killed ends up living at the same farm where Angolan negro Eduardo works since the place is owned by the little lad’s grandparents. When Marnix uses a pencil to outline Eduardo’s head and hand on a piece of paper to create what seems like some ancient occult archetype featuring a hand coming out of a mouth, the Angolan mechanic becomes extremely hostile and accuses the boy of practicing black magic. Later, Eduardo, who seems to have developed a deep irrational fear of the rather strange ginger cracker kid, pours gasoline on a rat and goes to set it on fire in front of Marnix, but the boy’s grandmother Sientje (Leny Breederveld) shows up before he can do it, so the whacky negro bashes the rodent to death in anger. Later that day, Marnix spots his mother’s killer Ronnie at a grocery store, so he immediately tells his grandparents as he is naturally afraid that the big scary gangster will kill him. As it turns out, Marnix’s grandfather Minne (René Groothof) was the one responsible for attempting to assassinate Ronnie at the white party and now that he knows that the gangster is in Dokkum, he decides to take a second attempt at assassinating his belated daughter's killer. Meanwhile, Ronnie has dinner with the fat blonde owner of the hotel he is staying at and confesses to her, “I came close to dying. When I woke up in hospital it was as if I crawled back into a wet and sandy sock.” When the hotel owner asks him how he feels now, Ronnie responds, “like a peeled shrimp…with no shell.” After dinner, Ronnie, who seems to be guided by some unknown sacred force, borrows a bicycle and heads to the sea for a transcendental scene where he will be confronted by Marnix’s grandparents Minne and Sientje. In the end, after ironically saving Minne’s life, Ronnie ends up sitting in ‘Donar’s Oak’ aka ‘Thor’s Oak’ with Eduardo, who somberly states, “When I feel bad…I’ve always got my music. It makes me feel closer to my father. I thought it was safe here…but now I know…that in the land of the Frisians…a tree is not a safe place.”
Unquestionably, one of the most shocking things about The Resurrection of a Bastard is that it was auteur Guido van Driel’s first feature as, while it might not be a completely immaculate work, it certainly shows an uncompromising vision from a mensch that wouldn’t bow down to political correctness, cinematic convention, nor audience expectation. Admittedly, after I discovered that the film featured a side story about an Angolan refugee, I expected the work to be plagued by some conspicuously contrived and patently pathetic bleeding heart message typical of contemporary European arthouse films that is specially tailored to appeal to ethno-masochistic film critics and the Netherlands’ hopelessly liberal-minded populous, but van Driel thankfully had the gall to portray the negro in an intricate and totally unpredictable way that makes it seem like foreigners from the Global South can only go spiritually and mentally insane by living in the deracinated post-Christian Occident. Additionally, unlike the average Tarantino flick, which attempts to be ‘edgy’ and ‘subversive’ with its nauseating hodgepodge of negrophilia, cultural cuckoldry, and quasi-feminism, van Driel’s film is actually subversive as reflected in dialogue like the character Janus’ remark to Ronnie, “This whole advertising and fashion scene is full of gays. They’re telling us what kind of women we should like. But what do they like? Boys. So what do they give us? Girls that look like boys. It makes sense. They’re not interested in women with ample D-cups.” Indeed, in my less than humble opinion, The Resurrection of a Bastard is the most audaciously ambitious, thematically subversive, metaphysically foreboding, and idiosyncratically aesthetically pleasing gangster flick since Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg’s classic Performance (1970) and like the Mick Jagger vehicle, I think the startlingly transcendental Dutch flick will ultimately gain a loyal cult following, though it will probably most certainly remain under-appreciated and under-seen in the United States due to its lack of distribution, among other things.
Undoubtedly, van Driel probably said it best when he remarked regarding the film’s decidedly Dutch character: “The magic realism is new in Dutch cinema. At the same time, the film also contains typically Dutch elements. That singularity is a plus for international viewers; we all watch art house cinema for a glimpse of another part of the world. If the plot is worth it, of course. It was this uniqueness that led to DE NOORDERLINGEN's success abroad. Idiosyncrasy is better than trying to work in an international style or copying Hollywood. You can't win that way.” Indeed, the best Dutch films tend to be the most decidedly Dutch works as they tend to reflect a singular and highly individualistic Germanic people whose artistic vision has been like no other people in the world as van Driel's pleasantly preternatural gangster flick further confirms. Certainly, the best compliment I can probably pay to The Resurrection of a Bastard is that it proved to me that not only can graphic novelist creators be true artists, but also that graphic novels can actually be adapted into artsy fartsy metaphysical works that also manage to feature the lowbrow humor and ultra-violence that such books are well known for. While I have never read the comic since I am not literate in Dutch, I think I can take van Driel’s word for it when he stated regarding The Resurrection of a Bastard, “The film is better than the book.”
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:56 PM
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