Scheduled to stay in the States for a bit less than a year, Netherlands native Sander Keemink felt compelled to present us with what he referred to as “two Dutch treats” in his first presentation at movie night.
Father and Daughter is a speech-free short, which makes it a bit ambiguous as to what is happening. But it goes something like this: a father and daughter bike to a boat landing on a levee. The father gets in a boat and leaves, and the daughter eventually pedals away. She comes back to wait for his arrival, but he never comes. She continues to return through various stages of her life, with friends, with a boyfriend, with her own young children, and finally as an old woman. At this last stage she climbs down to the boat dock to find that the water has receded from the dock. She walks out into the reeds and eventually comes upon the skeleton of her father’s boat, in which she lays down. Then she looks up at something offscreen and walks towards it, growing younger and younger, and finally arriving in her father’s arms.
Interesting. Kinda sentimental. Not quite sure what to make of it. Lots of bicycles, so that’s good.
Sander’s feature presentation, Soldaat van Oranje (Soldier of Orange, 1977) was not nearly so open to interpretation. It is apparently widely considered to be one of the two best Dutch films ever (no, I don’t know what the other one is) and a big reason for that is the production quality. While it doesn’t wow you by current Hollywood standards, for a 1977 film it doesn’t embarrass itself and that may have a lot to do with its reputation (the typical Dutch film has a very low budget, apparently). It was directed by Paul Verhoeven about a decade before he became a major name in Hollywood, and is for the most part a pretty straight-up WWII film (moar Nazis!) based on a true story that occurred during the German occupation of the Netherlands.
The film begins with a flash-forward of Queen Wilhelmina of the House of Orange (hence both the title of the film and the reason that the Dutch wear orange bodysuits in speed skating even though their flag colors are red, white, and blue) returning to the Netherlands after the war, which she had rode out in England. But then it quickly jumps back to the halcyon pre-war days and a frat-like college initiation. Remember that this is the day and age when college students wore suits on a daily basis. Keeners.
Rutger Hauer (as Erik) gets a tureen of soup bashed over his head by the haughty student honcho Guus. Naturally, Guus feels bad the next day and the two become fast friends, living together in an apartment, playing tennis, and writing their names on the wall when they finally get their degree.
The collegians soon learn that Germany and England have gone to war, but blithely believe that the Netherlands will remain neutral as they did in WWI. Well, perhaps the Netherlands would have liked to have done that, but the Germans didn’t really want to cross the Maginot line into France, deciding that going around would be a lot easier. Sorry, Holland! The movie implies that the Dutch Army didn’t manage to offer much resistance to the German war machine.
The little group (for the most part) goes to work in the Dutch underground, a major player being Robby, who has a secret radio transmitter and serves as a contact point for the underground in the communications with England. Erik starts hanging out with Robby partly to be involved in the resistance, and partly because he’s got a thing for Robby’s Jewish girlfriend Esther.
Esther seems perfectly happy to carry it on with both Robby and Erik, but Robby is about to send Erik off on a mission to England before their Jewish friend Jan (above, boxing glove) does something silly and attacks a
Nazi soldier (correction: it was a member of the Dutch Nazi police) who is harassing the locals. Jan is pulled off of the streets by Erik, but with the Germans now on the lookout for him, Erik tries to sacrifice his seat on the mission-plane for Jan. Unfortunately, the Germans have been intercepting Robby’s transmissions and Jan is nabbed. During his interrogation the Germans name drop their “source” in England (van der Zanden, who turns out to be a trusted member of Wilhelmina’s staff and OK – it’s subterfuge, you see). They then capture Erik, put the two in a position for Jan to pass the name of van der Zanden to Erik, then release Erik and execute Jan.
Erik and Guus manage to escape to England on a cargo boat and are brought into the company of Queen Wilhelmina (and van der Zanden) while the Germans turn Robby, threatening to do Holocausty things to Esther if he doesn’t collaborate.
Meanwhile, Erik, never one for the easy relationship, finds himself in a love triangle with Guus and an Englishwoman named Sally. Despite the fact that Guus seems to be getting the best of the threesome, Sally contrives to send Guus and not Erik off on a dangerous mission back to the Netherlands to collect some leaders of the resistance and bring them to England. I’m not really sure if the mission would have been productive, had it been successful, because, like, don’t you want your underground leaders in place? I don’t know, I’m no war tactician.
Anyway, Guus’ “waterproof” radio transmitter proves to have been anything but, and he resorts to good old Robby to get a message back out. Erik recognizes Robby’s transmission lead-in, and suspecting Robby of being turned (presumably because the “van der Zanden” explanation was clearly a misdirect), realizes that Guus is in trouble. He asks to be inserted to help extricate Guus from the situation.
Doesn’t work. Too late.
But Erik does manage to have a chance encounter with Alex, a former colleague whose German heritage led him to take the easy way out and join up with the Nazis following the occupation. They have a very sexually tense tango moment before Erik steals away – Alex is eventually shown blown up on a latrine at the Russian front. That’s what you get for being a Nazi, you Nazi!
Because of Robby, the Germans knew about the resistance-leader escape attempt. Erik was trying to warn Guus about this, but he’s a bit late, and in the end only Erik (who gets back to the boat) and Guus (who swims to another beach) get out alive. Guus, stuck in the Netherlands, finds Robby, kills him, and is subsequently executed. Erik eventually waits out the war with Wilhelmina (flying some missions for the RAF) and returns with the Queen as a member of her staff. Esther managed to survive, as did another student who had laid low. The end.
All in all it was a good movie, but for the “best Dutch movie ever” it was a bit disappointing. Outside of showing WWII from the point of view of the Dutch underground (at least that’s novel) it didn’t really break any new ground as a war film. It was kind of long. The subtitles were imperfect (but big props to Sander for finding a subtitle program and painstakingly fixing the timing errors, which apparently were on the order of several minutes and would have made the movie incomprehensible). I’m glad I saw it. I’m not ever going to watch it again, but I’m glad I saw it.