When Paul Verhoeven left the Netherlands for Hollywood, he left a perennial void in Dutch cinema that no other filmmaker would ever come close to filling in terms of success or output, though some have certainly tried with varying results. Indeed, Ate de Jong’s career stagnated after both of his Hollywood films Drop Dead Fred (1991) and Highway to Hell (1991) failed miserably (though both films would ironically go on to become cult classics of sorts), Theo van Gogh only got international recognition after he was assassinated in 2004 and Hollywood actors like Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci remade two of his films in tribute, Dick Maas has been making highly accessible Hollywood-esque films his entire career but has failed to make it to the real deal, George Sluizer always remained a one-hit-wonder of sorts, and Americans are probably not brainwashed enough by feminism yet to fully embrace the unintentionally zany gynocentric weltanschauung of Marleen Gorris. In terms of younger filmmakers, Martin Koolhoven has proved himself ‘multicultural-friendly’ enough with ethno-masochistic cuckold garbage like Het schnitzelparadijs (2005) aka Schnitzel Paradise and 'n Beetje Verliefd (2006) aka Happy Family and profitable enough with his fairly generic WWII flick Oorlogswinter (2008) aka Winter in Wartime, so we will just have to see if his upcoming effort Brimstone (2016) starring big names like Robert Pattinson, Guy Pearce, and Carice van Houten will turn him into the next Verhoeven. As for other young contenders, Lodewijk Crijns probably has what it takes to have a rather successful career churning out raunchy trash comedies as demonstrated by works like Jezus is een Palestijn (1999) aka Jesus Is a Palestinian and Alleen maar nette mensen (2012) aka Only Decent People, which are not only more artful and sophisticated than the cheap and senseless crap kosher comedies that Hollywood regularly defecates out, but also more raunchy and genuinely politically incorrect. Indeed, in its depiction of the phoniness, pomposity, and cryptic racism of Amsterdam’s posh liberal Jewish community, as well as its uncompromising and shockingly unflattering depiction of the Dutch negro population, Only Decent People is surely far too radical for the rabid Zionist clowns of Tinseltown, who prefer portraying white (translation: non-Jewish men of Europid extraction) as moronic beta bitches and beautiful white women as jungle fever crazed whores, as well as incessantly mocking, degrading, and falsely stereotyping America’s white majority in general. While best known for his iconoclastic comedies, Crijns, who somewhat physically resembles a Game of Thrones character, has somewhat of arthouse roots as reflected in his genre-defying medium-length debut Lap Rouge (1997), which is a sort of quasi-mockumentary about two exceedingly eccentric Dutch brothers of the reasonably socially autistic sort whose odiously overbearing mother moved them to a remote village in southern France in 1959 to spare them the ‘prison’ of bourgeois life, thus leading to their abject alienation. Although completely unknown outside of the Netherlands like virtually all of the director’s works, Crijns’ second feature-length film Met grote blijdschap (2001) aka With Great Joy starring Verhoeven diva Renée Soutendijk (Spetters, De vierde man aka The 4th Man) and rather rotund Dutch arthouse star Jack Wouterse (De noorderlingen aka The Northerners, Suzy Q) is nothing short of a modern classic and indubitably the auteur’s darkest and most mature work, as a sort of cult film without a cult that is practically begging for a international following (of course, like most great Dutch films, it seems that the film's distributor has nil interest in exporting the work).
While fitting no specific genre, With Great Joy can probably be best described as a ‘dark family mystery’ with decidedly dark comedic overtones that also features conventions of horror, thriller, and melodrama. Quasi-Lynchian in terms of its intricate ominous and foreboding sound landscape, dark and shadowy cinematography, and unraveling of less than flattering family truths, Crijns’s film, which was co-penned by actress and screenwriter Kim van Kooten (who also co-wrote Theo van Gogh’s Blind Date (1996)), is a work with many shocking twists and turns that depicts the familial misery that ensues when a fairly conventional middleclass middle-aged Dutchman discovers the whereabouts of his estranged loser brother who he has not seen or heard from in 15 years and takes his pregnant girlfriend to Wallonia, only to be confronted with a series of unsettling and shameful secrets from his past that he was certainly better off not knowing about. Indeed, to write a full plot summary of the film would undoubtedly ruin the film’s impact on people who have not seen the work, but I think it is safe to say that With Great Joy is a decided downer with an almost wickedly ironic title that will surely provoke anger in certain more sensitive viewers. Undoubtedly, in its cynical and borderline misanthropic depiction of humanity, it is certainly the sort of work that could have only been made in the Netherlands. Set in a wooded region of Belgium where the protagonist's brother has been secretly living with his common law wife for the past decade and a half, the film has a superficial Brothers Grimm-esque fairytale feel to it that seems to intentionally betray its very adult issues, thus underscoring the subtly unsettling general tone of the film in a work that ultimately defies all audience expectations.
With Great Joy begins with a fat and extremely unkempt Dutchman named Ad Sipkes (Jack Wouterse) being spotted from a car by a couple as he walks down a remote road in a wooded mountain region of Ardennes, Belgium. Ad is the estranged brother of banally middleclass protagonist Luc Sipkes (Jaap Spijkers of Karim Traïdia’s De Poolse bruid (1998) aka The Polish Bride and Alex van Warmerdam’s Ober (2006) aka Waiter), who receives a telephone call from a friend named Jose while he is spooning his thoroughly pregnant much younger wife Mieke (Camilla Siegertsz) that his long lost brother has been spotted roaming around a rural road in Belgium. Needless to say, Luc and his wife Mieke soon head to Belgium and after talking with Belgian authorities, the protagonist figures out where his brother is residing under an assumed name. When Luc and his wife arrive at the house, they find Ad, who is clearly completely alienated from mainstream society as reflected by his unkempt appearance and peculiar behavior, lurking among the shadows of his home and acting rather antisocial and skittish, as if he is trying to hide some deep dark secret. After questioning Luc about their parents and discovering that their mother is dead, Ad eventually breaks down crying and pushes his brother away when he later attempts to give him a hug. Ultimately after various failed attempts to appeal to his brother, Luc and his wife decide to leave, but while sitting in his car the protagonist is startled to see someone from his past walk by, thus inspiring him to immediately exit the vehicle and approach the woman. The woman’s name is Els Groenendijk (Renée Soutendijk) and, as the viewer will eventually find out, she used to be Luc’s lover but now she is Ad’s old lady. Of course, Luc refuses to tell his wife about his romantic past with Els and instead tells Mieke that he knows her from “youth orchestra.” Clearly thrilled to see her ex-beau , Els invites Luc and his wife inside and naturally Ad is annoyed so he goes and hides when they come back inside, but he somewhat loosens up over time, especially after having a couple drinks. That night, Els cooks dinner and everyone gets good and drunk on some organic wine. Of course, while drunk, Luc asks his brother why he disappeared and never attempted to contact him and Ad half-joking replies, “No news…is good news” after bitching how he has always felt like the black sheep in their family. Indeed, it is quite apparent that Ad is a sort of resentful fat loser who has always lived in the shadow of his more handsome and better liked brother, hence one of the reasons he decided to disappear and live off the grid. Meanwhile, Luc’s wifey Mieke is not exactly humored by Ad’s odd sense of humor and she is especially annoyed with Els, who she suspects of having a thing for her hubby. As the viewer will eventually learn, Luc and Els' past is much deeper and more complicated than Mieke suspects.
That night after everyone goes to bed, Luc is woken up by what sounds like a vicious animal in the barn next to the house. The next morning before anyone else wakes up, Luc, who wants to uncover what Ad and Els are clearly hiding from him, decides to sabotage some wires in his car so that he can stay longer and satisfy his undying curiosity while also attempting to create a stronger bond with his misfit brother. Although Luc confesses to his wife that he intentionally sabotaged his car so that he could stay longer, Mieke absolutely refuses to stay and is mad that he is staying because she thinks that Els is an “incredible bitch” and does not trust her with her husband. After Mieke takes a train back to the Netherlands, Luc decides to investigate why there were sounds coming from his brother’s barn the night before and soon discovers there is some sort of wild beast lurking inside. When Luc senselessly puts his keys under the barn door to see how the creature inside reacts, the beast almost instantly grabs them in a rather violent fashion. That night, Els reveals her deep longing and desire for Luc by passionately stating to him, “I’d really appreciate it if you can…stay a few days more.” After putting Ad to bed with a vodka bottle (indeed, Ad goes to sleep while embracing said vodka bottle, as he is a dipsomaniac who regularly attempts to drown his sorrow and resentment with cheap alcohol), Els tells Luc that she refuses to sleep in the same bed with her beau because “Ad stinks” and then informs him in a rather suggestive fashion that she will be sleeping in the same room and bed as him. Of course, Els attempts to seduce Luc and he naturally turns her down since he is a married man with a pregnant young wife, thus causing her to sob hysterically in an attempt to manipulate him into giving her a sympathy fuck. When Luc decides to leave after becoming uncomfortable with his ex-lover's rather aggressive sexual advances and tells Els that his keys are inside the locked barn, she manipulatively informs him where the key is to open said barn even though she knows that he will ultimately receive the shock of a lifetime upon entering the building. Naturally, Luc is petrified to find what is imprisoned inside the dilapidated old barn, but his curiosity gets the best of him and he decides to go in, thus resulting in him being attacked by a violent retarded child wearing a helmet. Indeed, while the retarded child is attached to his back and clawing at his body like a rabid cat, Luc runs out of the barn and screams to his brother for help.
As it turns out, Luc and Els have been hiding out in Belgium because they are ashamed of their rather vicious and completely unpredictable retarded son Thomas, who is kept in the mattress-padded barn at all times because he is dangerous to both himself and everyone that he comes in contact with. After sarcastically stating, “Are you happy now?” to his brother after locking Thomas back in his room, Ad warns Luc to never go near the barn again, but of course the protagonist refuses to abide and becomes obsessed with the feral boy, who acts and is treated like a wild animal. The next morning, Luc spies on Els singing “happy birthday” to Thomas, who has a balloon attached to his helmet, while Ad stares with a face of disgust and contempt and complains regarding the pointlessness of singing to the obscenely retarded lad, “He doesn’t understand it anyway.” When Luc eventually reveals himself by singing along with Els, Ad yells “sod off” and shuts the barn door. At this point, Luc agrees to leave but tells Ad that Thomas has his keys, which the child likes to jingle as a sort of infantile toy. In the process of attempting to get the keys from his son, Ad is bitten and Thomas manages to flee the barn, so the three adults split up and go looking for the feral boy. Ultimately, Luc finds Thomas and Ad eventually catches up with the two. When Luc bitches to Ad that he should not hit Thomas because he thinks that the boy “has the right to respect,” his brother accuses him of being typically arrogant and tells him he has no idea what he is talking about and then reveals that the only way that the feral boy can be calmed down is by being hit, which he readily demonstrates. After going on a rant about how Els’ parents are worthless trash, Ad reveals to his brother that Thomas is mentally defective as a result of being born prematurely and that the nurse recommended that he be institutionalized at birth. Hoping that Els would stay with a sloppy and obscenely overweight slob of a beta bitch like himself, perennial cuckold Ad agreed to devote his life to raising Thomas in secrecy. After Ad yells at him, “Sod off. Fuck off, get lost” and “I never want to see you again,” Luc finally decides to leave but while driving back he soon has a change of heart and turns around. As the film will soon reveal, Luc should have taken Ad’s advice and left permanently, as he has yet to learn the worst family secret of all.
It should be noted that With Great Joy was made as a part of the 2001 ‘No More Heroes’ series produced by the production company Motel Films where five different talented young Dutch novice filmmakers were given the opportunity to direct a feature-length film depicting “individuals who consciously turn their backs on society.” Aside from Lodewijk Crijns’ film, the other cinematic works that were produced as part of the series are mostly similarly high quality dark and foreboding films and include Martin Koolhoven’s AmnesiA (2001), Nanouk Leopold’s Îles flottantes (2001), Michiel van Jaarsveld’s Drift (2001), and Norbert ter Hall’s Monte Carlo (2001). Notably, like Koolhoven with AmnesiA, With Great Joy is unequivocally Crijns’ darkest and most idiosyncratic work and certainly a true black sheep in his otherwise hopelessly modern and overly sleekly stylized oeuvre (indeed, even Crijns' ostensibly darkly themed made-for-TV movie Loverboy (2003), which deals with the fairly serious topic of Arab men tricking underage white Dutch girls into prostitution, is not all that serious and is plagued by sensational pop culture garbage), thus leading me to suspect that the limitations that are forced upon a filmmaker that is involved with a theme based film series can sometimes have fairly positive results. Somewhat curiously but not completely surprisingly considering the rest of his work, Crijns is apparently not that big of a fan of With Great Joy, as he prefers making comedies. It should also be noted that the film was shot by Joost van Gelder, who acted as the cinematographer of a number of early Aryan Kaganof masterpieces, including Kyodai Makes the Big Time (1992), The Mozart Bird (1993), Ten Monologues from the Lives of the Serial Killers (1994), Nice to Meet You, Please Don't Rape Me! (1996), and Naar de klote! (1996) aka Wasted!, as well as van Jaarsveld’s Drift and Erik de Bruyn’s Dutch cult classic Wilde mossels (2000) aka Wild Mussels. Considering that the filmmaker's most popular works Jesus Is a Palestinian and Only Decent People have extremely artificial aesthetics that seem like they were made for people with ADD and scream MTV, one must certainly credit cinematographer van Gelder for the decidedly dark and dreary look of With Great Joy, which certainly does not resemble any of Crijns' other films.
Not surprisingly considering its strange, unsettling, and oftentimes genuinely unpredictable storyline, With Great Joy would earn Crijns and his co-writer Kim van Kooten a Golden Calf—the Dutch equivalent of an Oscar—for best screenplay (the film was also nominated for ‘Best Film’ and the ‘Dutch Film Critics Award’). Ultimately, Crijns’ film is a distinctly dejecting tale of shame and guilt that indubitably features one of the most patently pathetic characters in film history as almost immaculately personified by Jack Wouterse as the less than jolly fat man Ad, who bears the shame of self-cuckoldry, among other things that I will not mention because they will surely spoil the film for those that have yet to see it. Of course, as a beauteous yet dysgenic woman with trashy worthless parents and a meta-retarded son, Els is also a rather rare but important film character that offers a sort of warning to men that marrying and/or reproducing with a white trash woman can come at a particularly high price that could haunt you for the rest of your life. Indeed, I know of a kind old man of Irish stock who made the genetically tragic mistake of mating with a woman with tainted genetics and siring a half-retarded son of the deleteriously sexually promiscuous sort who while working as a truck driver produced about thirty different bastard brood around the country. Of course, not only was this proud Irish-American man's entire bloodline irrevocably ruined, but his degenerate descendants also spread like cancer as is typical of unintelligent untermenschen who have no problem breeding children they cannot feed. Luckily, it is dubious at best that a wild child like the one featured in With Great Joy would ever get the opportunity to reproduce. With its unique combination of dark and tragic family melodrama and unconventional arthouse approach to horror and thriller genres, Crijns' film is like a seemingly unlikely aesthetic marriage of Douglas Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbinder with David Lynch and David Cronenberg, albeit with a hint of Walloon master auteur André Delvaux (Un Soir, un Train aka One Night... a Train, Belle) thrown in for good measure. If you're looking to see a rare film that, in stark contrast to sentimental Hollywood movies like Nell (1994) and independent films like Mockingbird Don't Sing (2001), depicts a retarded feral person in a no bullshit and genuinely horrifying way, you will probably not find a film as provocative as With Great Joy which, unlike even Werner Herzog's Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (1974) aka The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and especially François Truffaut's L'Enfant sauvage (1970) aka The Wild Child, does not leave the viewer with even the faintest sense of solace in the end.