Mar 7, 2015
Out of all the white countries in the world, I would have to assume that the Netherlands has the smallest rowdy red-blooded redneck population and the fact that a small proletarian village in Bergen op Zoom could produce a filmmaker as idiosyncratic and cultivated as Adriaan Ditvoorst (Paranoia, De Witte Waan aka White Madness) seems to be proof of that. Indeed, I am willing to bet that the average Dutch lumpenprole is more cultured and well read than the average American college-educated bourgeois professional, though judging by the film Wilde mossels (2000) aka Wild Mussels directed by Erik de Bruyn (Nadine, J. Kessels), it seems that at least one area of the Netherlands, Zeeland (or ‘Zealand’ in English)—the westernmost province of the country which is comprised of a group of islands (hence its name, which translates to ‘Sealand’) that thrives on a largely tourist economy (apparently, the dreaded krauts love vacationing there)—seems to have a less than cultivated peasant population that would fit in well in the American rural Deep South. Undoubtedly, with its adrenalin-packed combination of lowbrow humor, danger-loving longhaired dudes on motorcycles, lecherous domineering women with ridiculous haircuts, incessant dope-smoking and dipsomania, crappy radio rock music, and even Confederate flags, De Bruyn’s film is probably the only Dutch film ever made that would appeal to fans of the hit American redneck soap opera Sons of Anarchy, yet it is a relatively fun flick as a sort Dutch tragicomedic mix between Federico Fellini’s I Vitelloni (1953) and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) about a young Zealand-bred motorbike-riding bastard who feels trapped in an ostensible paradise and dreams of moving to Dublin after meeting a smooth-talking burnt-out Irish dude with a glaringly goofy mullet.
A sort of Dutch (anti)Heimat flick featuring magic realist elements and a soundtrack viewers will either love or love to hate (I fall into the latter group) that includes songs by Nashville Pussy (who actually appear in the film), Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Green Lizard, Deftones, and the director himself, Wild Mussels is indubitably one of the least pretentious and most accessible ‘arthouse’ works that I have ever seen as a film that anyone who has grown up in a small and isolated rural area, especially of the seaside sort, can relate to, at least to some extent. As someone that both grew up in a small rural area and later moved to a seaside town, I found that De Bruyn’s debut offered, in a somewhat unintentional way, a strange bit of slight déjà vu for me from a past life (indeed, during my early adult years, most of my pals were beer-chugging rockers-cum-motorcyclists that dreamed of getting out of town and making something out of their lives but ultimately never did), and although the film may be plagued by a tidal wave of moronic haircuts, a spastic symphony of retard rock, and a couple ‘false notes,’ its ‘metalhead melancholia’ ultimately rings true. Directed by a fellow who somewhat made his debut in the Dutch cinema world by appearing in Eric De Kuyper’s pomo homo experimental celluloid odyssey Pink Ulysses (1990), Wild Mussels is a perpetually blue-tinted lumpenprole celluloid poem that, although fairly accessible, concludes on a senselessly tragic note that is more in tune with the absurdity of real-life than the putridly positive fantasy realm of unholywood. Starring reasonably talented leading man Fedja van Huêt of contemporary Dutch classics like Mike van Diem’s Karakter (1997) aka Character and Martin Koolhoven’s AmnesiA (2001) in an almost unrecognizable role as the deleteriously free-spirited yet perennially dejected lead character, de Bruyn’s work is arguably the best ‘post-teen rebel’ flick ever made as a vulgarly beauteous fever dream about a male threesome that seem to have forgotten they graduated from angst-ridden adolescence about a decade ago and must confront the future or stay trapped in a static seaside nightmare of perennial proletarian monotony.
One gets a pretty good idea what kind of loser antihero Leen (Fedja van Huêt) is during the opening scene of the film where he shares a fat joint with his comrade Jacob (Frederik Brom) and attempts to be ‘deep’ by discussing an ‘alien superbrain,’ only for his friend to demystify his fantasies with reality. Leen fantasizes a lot because he has a humdrum job working as a boat mechanic that he is only able to find solace from via smoking, drinking, partying, reckless motorbiking, and other dangerous behavior that hints the antihero has some sort of deep dark death wish. Despite being a hard worker, Leen is living in a state of perpetual adolescence that seems partly the result of the fact that he is a bastard who never knew his professional motorbike father, who he oftentimes thinks about and talks about with his seemingly deceased daddy’s Belgian friend Wannes (Josse De Pauw of Dominique Deruddere’s Crazy Love (1987)), who he sees as a sort of pseudo-father figure. Leen also has a curious relationship with his lecherous mother Noortje (Will van Kralingen), who clearly has incestuous feelings for her son as he apparently resembles his father in both appearance and character. Due to the fact she once abandoned him when he was a child, Leen somewhat resents his whorish mommy, who has no problem flirting with her son the same way she flirts with other men to get what she wants. Noortje is married to an old bald fart that Leen works for named Rinus (Hans Veerman) that she clearly does not love and describes simply as a, “just a roof over my head.” While Leen has a questionable relationship with his mommy, he has no problem attracting beauteous women as demonstrated by the fact that he manages to sweet talk a naughty nurse named Janine (Angelique de Bruijne) into taking off her panties in public and giving them to him so he can inhale her feminine secretions. Unfortunately, it seems that Leen has a hard time maintaining anything resembling a romantic relationship as demonstrated by the fact that he has random sex with fat chicks where he fantasizes about Janine and even his mommy. Of course, Leen spends most of his time with his two main pals Jacob and Daan (Frank Lammers), who also share his love of motorbiking but completely lack his smooth style and daredevil talents. Like his father before him, Leen plans to attend the Bikers Ball in Ostend, but his plans eventually go sour when he bends the frame of his bike after jumping over an entire canal with it.
Ultimately, Leen has an epiphany of sorts after meeting an Irishman that calls himself ‘Nowhere Man’ (Martin Dunne) after beating two of his friends in an amateur motorcycle race. After causing his two competitors to bite his dust, Leen spots Nowhere Man standing on the side of the road with a broken down car. Using his mechanic talents, Leen fixes the strange mullet-adorned Irish man’s car and is repaid with, “A great can of black piss from the Celtic angels.” After drinking a beer with the Irishman, Leen finds himself magically transported to an exotic Dublin bar featuring beauteous ginger girls who freely flash their neon red beavers, as well as negro bartenders that sport t-shirts reading ‘Zion.’ Ultimately, Nowhere Man gives Leen a red cassette tape with his phone number and tells him to come to Ireland, stating, “go into any Celtic pub and you will find me.” Needless to say, Leen instantly begins planning to move to Dublin and soon gets it into his head that his love interest Janine will go with him even though the two are not an actual couple, but when he asks her, she flips out and smacks him in a hysterical fashion. Leen also comes up with a moronic idea to rob a local bank, but the heist fails miserably after one of the protagonist’s friends accidentally gets shot in the thigh. When Leen’s stepfather accidentally drowns in a freak accident at work, Leen's dream of relocating to Dublin comes crashing down as he is forced to takeover the old man’s job, thus making him feel all the more trapped in Zealand, especially considering he now feels obligated to support his widowed mother, who more or less demands that the protagonist stay by blackmailing him with emotions. Meanwhile, Daan goes behind Leen’s back and begins dating Janine, thus causing the two lads to get into a bloody fist fight where the friends ultimately make up in the end. When Leen comes by his mother’s home one day and she describes how she is planning to move to the city with a pompous business man named Bert (Freark Smink), the protagonist, who has more or less dedicated his life to taking care of his wanton progenitor, loses it and decides to leave Zealand for good.
After ritualistically burning down his makeshift houseboat home, Leen begins heading out of Zealand on his motorbike, but at the last minute he decides to make the ultimately fatal mistake of seeing his friends Daan and Jacob play an underground show, especially considering it is the latter’s birthday. Naturally, Leen gets good and wasted during the concert to the point where he pours beer on his head while in the moshpit. After the show, a rather inebriated Leen tells his comrades he is leaving while playing Russian Roulette with a gun he stole from Wannes, stating like a true braggart, “Celtic angels, great babes, girls with red pussies, barrels of whisky. You can fly there! All at once, heaven and hell. I’m gonna make it. A garage and bar in one. You can do anything, if you only dare. Just like the Irish, they’re just like the wild ones. I’m gonna make it over there. A garage and bar. And I’ll call it…the Celtic Car Company.” Rather tragicomically, right after stating, “Dublin…Greatest city in the world, here I come,” Leen accidentally kills himself after pulling the trigger during his rather haphazard game of Russian Roulette. At Leen’s funeral, Jacob reads a poem that his friend gave him the night he unwittingly offed himself that ironically reads, “My oh my, tell me why all hard work, and then you die. A spade of sand and you’re done…but I, I’m gone.” In the end, Jacob, who is not a native Zealander like Leen and Daan, is the only one that manages to leave the island. As Daan mockingly stated to Jacob when he lacked the testicular fortitude to play Russian Roulette with him and fellow Zealander Leen, “outsiders stay outsiders,” hence why said outsider was the only character in the film to realize his dream of getting away from the Dutch redneck island.
I have to admit that I found Wild Mussels to be a fairly bizarre work in the sense it straddles an inexplicable median between proudly lowbrow beer-chugging bromance buffoonery and transcendental magical realist celluloid art of the existentially intriguing sort. I think the rather preternatural aesthetic essence of the film can be best summed up in a scene where the antihero’s quasi-incestuous whore of a mother stands in front of a mirror and German Symbolist/Jugendstil (aka Art Nouveau) painter Franz von Stuck’s classic painting The Sin (1893) aka Die Sünde—a work depicting the embodiment of evil featuring a topless femme fatale with a large serpent wrapped around her body lurking amongst the shadows in a sinister yet seductive fashion—can be seen reflected behind her in a scene that ultimately reveals the character is a sort of figurative of ‘Eve’ whose behavior inevitably leads to her sole son’s rather pathetic demise. Surely, Wild Mussels is the relatively contemporary equivalent to Paul Verhoeven’s nihilistic cult classic Spetters (1980), which also depicts the seemingly accursed lives of a group of lumpenprole motorcyclists who lead senselessly self-destructive lives, though I would have to say that, for better or worse, Erik de Bruyn’s work has a more singular and readily recognizable aesthetic that, at least visually speaking, cannot really be compared to any other films. Indeed, with its incessantly ocean blue tint and solacing magic realist scenes of the protagonist drinking beer underwater and hanging out at otherworldly Dublin bars with lecherous mick chicks who have no problem flashing their red beavers to random strangers, Wild Mussels is literally and figuratively dripping with an undeniably potent atmosphere that gives the impression that Zealand has an ethereal essence, even if the film portrays the area as a sort of perennially draining metaphysical prison of sorts that no true local can escape from.
As someone that grew up in a small rural area where most of the people never seemed to manage to move away despite the fact that it seems like they spent most of their time complaining about how much they hated living there and fantasizing about moving away, I found that, despite its incessant fantasy scenes of magical realism, Wild Mussels ultimately rings true in terms of expressing the general mood of feeling like you're both physically and spiritually trapped in the seemingly forsaken hometown of your youth. Notably, when I moved away to college and came back to visit every once in a while, it was quite apparent that my old friends were degenerating by the second by having sex with homely and oftentimes fat chicks, recklessly indulging in hard drugs and cheap booze, and listening to shitty radio rock which altogether collectively became their regular lifestyle while their intellectual curiosity all but evaporated. In fact, I even had a friend who managed to shoot himself in the head like the protagonist of de Bruyn’s film but he managed to survive since it only grazed his skull. Of course, when everything is said and done, Wild Mussels will always hold a special place in my heart because it demonstrates that even the Dutch can be pothead rednecks with death wishes who listen to superlatively shitty music like the Deftones. In that sense, despite being a fairly idiosyncratic Dutch regional work, de Bruyn’s film ultimately says more about the white rural American majority than any Hebraic Hollywood film ever could.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 5:09 PM
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