Apr 21, 2015
During the late 1960s through early 1980s, various auteur filmmakers associated with New German Cinema created cinematic works oftentimes described as ‘anti-Heimat’ films that mocked and ridiculed the traditional Heimatfilm—a popular subgenre from the late 1940s through about the early 1970s that took a sentimental approach to simple rural living and traditionalist values—because they were brainwashed by the 68er-Bewegung German student and then-trendy ‘New Left’ ideologies and associated such films with the National Socialist proclivities of their parents and grandparents generation. The Lowland Countries like Belgium and the Netherlands had their own types of random anti-Heimat films as reflected in works like Fons Rademakers’ Mira (1971) and Alex van Warmerdam flicks like De Noorderlingen (1992) aka The Northerners and Kleine Teun (1998) aka Little Tony, but probably none of these works are as cold, ugly, and tragic as the little known work Kracht (1990) aka Vigour aka Vigor directed by flagrant feminist filmmaker Frouke Fokkema (Wildgroei aka It Will Never Be Spring, De omweg aka The Detour). While I have never seen any of her other works, I did see Martin Koolhoven’s darkly comedic cult flick Suzy Q (1999), which Fokkema penned and which presents a pathetic yet perturbing portrait of a 1960s Dutch working-class family that involves incest, violent misogyny, suicide, and mindless Mick Jagger worship, among other things. Unlike Suzy Q, Kracht is rarely humorous and is even sometimes downright oppressive in its ‘stoic’ depiction of raw and unadulterated human ugliness. Indeed, one thing that is especially notable about Fokkema's film is that it features a sort of cold emotional detachment that women typically seem to excel at. As one can expect from a film directed by a feminist that depicts an unlikely love affair between a widowed farmer from rural bumfuck and sensitive female artist type from the big city, Fokkema's directorial debut portrays Dutch peasants as close-minded and lynch-mob-inclined barbarians of the genetically degenerate sort who loathe modern art and lack even the slightest inkling of literacy and cultivation, yet somehow it is still a rather potent cinematic work of the emotionally brutalizing sort that demonstrates that its director seems to have a lot of pent up hatred which she has used to obscure assumed heartbreak and whatnot. In its depiction of a beauteous young blonde painter who lives in the shadow of her lover’s dead wife and tries in vain to get her widowed farmer beau to get over his deceased spouse, Kracht is like the Dutch anti-Heimat equivalent to Hitchcock’s classic Rebecca (1940) sans the Victorian Gothic elegance meets John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), albeit somewhat darker and drearier than the other two films. Set in a dysgenic rural hellhole in southeastern Holland where the locals speak a dialect of the somewhat obscure Franconian language of Limburgish, Fokkema’s film makes no attempts to conceal its hatred for the simple folk that it portrays as reflected in the fact that various characters are retarded and/or crippled, especially women and child, not to mention the fact that virtually all of them are unlikeable, if not downright creepy in a sinister redneck sort of way. Indeed, Kracht is indubitably a neo-liberal feminist’s worst nightmare, but that does not mean it will not appeal to people that find rednecks to be less repellant than Gloria Steinem fangirls.
Kracht begins with a funeral march for the wife of recently widowed quasi-protagonist Bert (Theu Boermans), who is a farmer that looks and even acts like the slightly less attractive brother of Swiss actor Bruno Ganz. Bert’s wife Marie-Louise’s corpse is being driven around by two goofy brothers, Jeu (Khaldoun Elmecky) and Jo (Bert Geurkink), who resemble the ghostly gangsters from the Israeli cult flick An American Hippie in Israel (1972) aka Ha-Trempist directed by Amos Sefer. In a clear demonstration of what auteuress Fokkema thinks of the local peasants, one of the two brothers remarks regarding Limburg, “The more the land becomes hilly, the more people sided with the Germans. My father used to say that.” While Bert’s wife died of brain cancer, most of the locals believe she worked herself to death and now that she is gone, the protagonist has no clue what to do with his life as he and his beloved have spent virtually the entire lives running their farm business and now he feels that he has lost his way. Before he watches her body being cremated, Bert takes the wedding band off his wife’s corpse in a symbolic gesture reflecting the fact that he cannot let her go. Bert’s seemingly half-retarded prepubescent son Thomas (Dave van Dinther) is in denial that his mother is dead as indicated in his bizarre remark, “My mother isn’t dead. She always be my mother. And I’ll survive you all. Then you’ll be in jars. There’ll be ten jars on the mantelpiece.” Of course, the jars Thomas is in reference to the fact that his mother was cremated and her ashes were placed in a vase. When Bert begins mourning, less than empathetic neighbors scream rather cavalier things from outside his house things like, “Go to work. Your animals are starving. Self-pity. Cut it out.” When Bert’s butcher brother starts a fist fight with him, a neighbor woman remarks, “They’re killing each other. They’ve been doing it for twenty years.” Undoubtedly, if Bert is a cryptically melancholy man, his butcher brother is as hard and stoic as a rock. After two months of mopping around, the local Catholic priest visits Bert and, after some arguing, convinces him to go to an agriculture fair in a city 200 kilometers away. Unbeknownst to Bert, he will meet a beautiful young woman in the city that will fall deeply in love with him, but he will be to emotionally ill-equipped to accept her love and will ultimately destroy her.
While Bert roams around a large crowd at the agriculture convention in the city, a ravishing young blonde babe named Roos Rozemond (Anneke Blok) randomly begins taking photographs of him because she is attracted to his melancholic essence. Bert eventually notices Roos and decides to follow her to a table and asks her if he can sit next to her. Upon sitting at the table, Bert tells Roos that he feels like a stranger in the city since he is a country boy and she responds by half-jokingly stating, “I’m always a stranger in this city and I live here.” Indeed, Roos is a rather lonely and somewhat sad young lady and she is attracted to Bert because she could sense a similar feeling of impenetrable loneliness in him. Ultimately, Roos insists on finding Bert a “good hotel” and agrees to meet him later that night for a dinner date. Roos is an artist who, somewhat ironically considering what happens to her later in the film, paints large canvasses of mutilated pigs in a sort of quasi-expressionist style that Bert will ultimately have a hard time appreciating. When Roos and Bert eat dinner with one another later that night, the latter becomes fairly annoyed when the former’s ex-boyfriend Sjors (Rik Launspach) randomly shows up, so he forces his date to leave abruptly with him and they head back to his hotel. When Roos comes back to Bert’s hotel room and gets rather sensual with him, the less than sexually experienced farmer awkwardly remark, “I’m a simple man. I have to get used to it.” When Roos asks Bert if he thinks she’s a prostitute while sitting on his lap in a provocative fashion, he replies, “Yes. You look a bit like those women you have to pay.” When Roos jokes that he can tip her if she wants after they have sex, he somewhat absurdly replies in a hopelessly honest fashion, “Good, money speaks more clearly than love. But it’s confusing with you. You may mean more than just money.” Although they have just met, Roos even goes so far as proclaiming her love for Bert, who opens up enough to reveal that his wife is dead and that he has, “A 9-year-old son. A real asshole.” Ultimately, Bert has too much anxiety about having sex with Roos, so when she falls asleep, he writes her a note with his phone number and abruptly leaves the hotel. Naturally, since she believes that she is in love, Roos wastes no time in calling Bert, not realizing her new beau comes from a backwards hellhole of a small-town where everyone is proudly ignorant, perennially stubborn, and not privy to sensitive artistic types like herself.
Upon arriving at Bert’s isolated town via train, Roos is chauffeured by the brothers Jeu and Jo, who shock the young lady by remarking that her beau’s wife only died recently and was purportedly “worked to death.” Roos almost seems petrified upon entering Bert’s seemingly foreboding town due the lack of people and complains, “Are you sure this is it? I don’t see anyone,” to which Jeu and Jo somewhat creepily reply, “They see you.” Indeed, the villagers certainly see her and it does not take them long to treat her like the local ‘bête noire’ because she is a beauteous and free-spirited outsider who threatens their absurdly outmoded way of life. Needless to say, Roos is somewhat disheartened when Bert seems less happy to see her as she is to see him. When Roos has dinner with Bert’s family, she is disturbed by the fact that her lover has an invalid sister that cannot talk and is more or less vegetable. Undoubtedly, the vegetable farmgirl seems to be symbolic of what the director thinks like life is life for a woman in such a small village. Bert’s butcher brother also makes quite the impression on Roos by discussing “artificial insemination” and how America has the “best semen” when it comes to farm animals. When one of Bert’s relatives remarks that Roos reminds him of the sort of models that are featured on local pornographic postcards, the protagonist loses his cool and abruptly leaves the dinner with his lady friend. Instead of talking to her and asking her what she likes, Bert spends most of his time with Roos morbidly talking about his dead wife, thereupon making it quite clear that he is incapable of moving on and starting a life with a new woman. While Bert compliments Roos because she “can listen” and, unlike his relatives, actually cares how how he feels, he is completely incapable of listening back and ultimately treats the hopelessly kind city girl in a rather emotionally and romantically negligent fashion that will ultimately break her. When the two love birds finally have sex for the first time, Bert gets a little too excited and ejaculates before he even manages to penetrate Roos. Of course, the two eventually begin to share a healthy sexual relationship that involves literally rolling around in the hay, but shared carnal knowledge is not enough to sustain their dubious romance.
Quite unlike the average western woman, Roos makes the most valiant and uncomfortable attempts to fit in with Bert’s family, including acting as a mother to his mentally feeble misfit son Thomas, who is such an unlikeable young man that he states regarding his own grandmother that she is a “Stupid woman” and brag, “Sometimes I hit her, because she’s so stupid.” Roos even paints a large almost life-size painting of her lover and his brothers and Bert later repays her priceless gesture of love and affection by unwittingly insulting her by attempting to buy her a cheap piece of folk art at a local fair while mocking the sort of modern art she does by describing it as “not really practical.” On top of everything else, Roos is quite unhappy with the fact that Bert’s deceased wife Marie-Louise’s ashes are sitting in plain view in a vase in the living room, as if the dead woman is haunting her beyond the grave. Indeed, at one point in the film, Roos stares in a forlorn fashion at the vase while Bert is banging her in a bestial fashion on the family couch. In what is arguably Roos’ most pathetic attempt at impressing Bert, she begins wearing his dead wife’s rather homely clothes, but it only angers and annoys the widowed farmer, who clearly does not see the young lady as a serious replacement for his deceased spouse. When Roos reveals she is pregnant, Bert becomes so infuriated that he slaps her hard enough to knock her on his ass and then accuses her of seducing him. Clearly deeply hurt by Bert’s belligerent behavior, Roos picks up the vase containing Marie-Louise’s ashes and hurls it at a wall. In a scene that seems like an unintentional parody of shitty Hollywood slasher films, Bert and his brothers slowly chase after Roos through a dirt field in a fashion not unlike Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers when they are stalking one of their victims. When Roos goes to the local priest for help, he dimisses her relationship with Bert and describes it as nothing more than a “one-night stand” and then tells her that it will be best for everyone involved if she goes back to the city. While Roos calls her ex-boyfriend Sjors to pick her up, she also attempts to make one last ditch effort to get back with Bert, but he refuses to listen to her and simply coldly tells her, “It’s no good. It’s over.” Ultimately, Roos decides to kill herself in a rather melodramatic fashion by hanging herself in Bert’s barn, but the rope eventually breaks and a pack of pigs begin gorging on her corpse after it hits the ground. When Bert finds Roos’ bloody and mangled corpse, he cries, “Oh girl…This can’t be…My god” and then yells to his butcher brother when he shows up, “slaughter the animals” and “get lost. She was the only one that listened to me.” Of course, had Bert actually listened to Roos once or twice and treated her like she was actually important to him, she probably would not have killed herself and the two might have even had a happy life together if they moved somewhere else where disapproving relatives were not lurking around every corner.
Undoubtedly, Kracht certainly demonstrates that director Frouke Fokkema has the sort of spiteful hatred of peasants that both self-righteous bourgeois white liberals and hormonally imbalanced feminists seem capable of, thus leading me to conclude that she would probably suffer a nervous breakdown if she was somehow forced to take a tour of the American Deep South. At the same time, Fokkema seems to fetishize the backwards farmer in the film, as if she would love nothing more than to be savagely ploughed by the one-eyed stag of a misogynistic redneck in the back of a cow-turd-infested barn. Ultimately, Kracht makes for a great double feature with the Dutch flick De Poolse bruid (1998) aka The Polish Bride directed by Algerian auteur Karim Traïdia, as both films offer very different depictions of Dutch farmers and their love affairs with virtual opposites. While Traïdia’s film is tender and portrays the Groningen countryside as having a sort of magical and mystifying beauty, Fokkema’s film portrays the Limburg countryside as an almost pernicious and certainly oppressive place with an eerie and deathly atmosphere that is likely to kill anyone if they dare to stay there long enough. Indeed, while ostensibly a dark romance flick, Kracht is really a work of Gothic anti-Heimat horror where the hick-hating auteuress seemed to manage to channel all her fears and hatred into the film, thus making for an undeniably potent piece of perturbing celluloid that, despite its cliché depiction of poor and ignorant peasants, still manages to succeed in most of its aesthetic ambitions. Indeed, sort of like the Dutch feminist equivalent to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) in its depiction of a monstrous hillbilly family that oppresses an outsider, albeit where said outsider falls in love with the monster and ultimately pays for it with her life, Kracht is the one film that has managed to convince me that there is such a thing as Dutch rednecks and they are indubitably more unnerving than the ones you find in hokey American Hebrew-produced horror films because they actually seem realistic and not like grotesque caricatures created by pencil-neck pansies who have never met a real redneck in their entire lives. Unlike many of the German anti-Heimat films of the late-1960s and 1970s, which seem outmoded due to their transparent post-68er-Bewegung political messages, Fokkema’s film has aged quite gracelessly as the passing time has only made the film's already moribund aesthetic tone only seem all the more decayed and rotten. Indeed, had Belgian Baron André Delvaux been a somewhat less cultivated lovelorn Dutch feminist with a cunt instead of a cock instead of an eclectically cultured Walloon magical realist, he might have directed something like Kracht.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:45 AM
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