Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Alex van Warmerdam

Alex van Warmerdam
Film-maker, writer, designer, director and actor Alex van Warmerdam was born on 14 August 1952 in Haarlem. After studying at the Graphic School he went on to train at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, and was co-founder of the legendary music-theatre company, Hauser Orkater. Since 1980 he has made ten theatre shows with his company, De Mexicaanse Hond (The Mexican Hound), including Graniet (Granite), Kaatje Is Verdronken (Katie has been drowned), Kleine Teun en Adel Blank. His collected theatre works and his novel De Hand van een Vreemde (The Hand of a Stranger) were published by Thomas Rap publishing house. Besides his many film prizes, he was awarded the prestigious Prins Bernhard Prize for Culture for his entire theatre and film oeuvre, the Albert van Dalsum Prize by the city of Amsterdam and the Dutch/Flemish Theatre Writers Prize.

At the end of the '70s, he wrote the script and the storyboard for the filming of Hauser Orkater's Entree Brussels and Striptease, together with Jim van der Woude and director Frans Weisz. After the short film De Stedeling (The Townee), he made his first feature film, Abel, in 1986, followed by De Noordelingen (The Northerners), De Jurk (The Dress) and Kleine Teun (Little Tony)

Imdb link: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0912334/

1. De laatste dagen van Emma Blank (2009) aka The Last Days of Emma Blank
2. Ober (2006) aka Waiter
3. Grimm (2003)
4. Kleine Teun (1998) aka Little Tony
5. Jurk, De (1996) aka The Dress
6. Noorderlingen, De (1992) aka The Northerners
7. Abel (1986)

The Last Days of Emma Blank

The Last Days of Emma Blank(2009)
Dir:Alex van Warmerdam

A she-devil holed up in a house in the Dutch dunes waits impatiently for death in "The Last Days of Emma Blank." The bitter irony of Dutch scribe-helmer-thesp Alex van Warmerdam's latest is that Emma's servants are possibly even more eager to see their boss-from-hell expire. More generally off-kilter than deadpan, this technically impressive ensembler from one of the Netherlands' few recognizable names suffers from an uneven tone and did just OK biz at home last May. International premiere at Venice will kick off the usual round of fests, with a possible afterlife in ancillary.

"The Last Days of Emma Blank" is a reworked version of van Warmerdam's 1999 play "Adel Blank." When that work premiered, the Dutch multihyphenate called his eponymous protag "Hitler in a dress," but that is an inadequate description. Indeed, Mrs. Blank is a domestic tyrant and always impeccably dressed, and there are plenty of references to Nazism (including a priceless gag involving a moustache). But the way in which van Warmerdam has constructed his screenplay makes it impossible for the character to personify evil incarnate. Emma is evil simply because she gets away with it.

The crux of "Emma Blank" is that the servants -- nitpicky butler Haneveld (Gene Bervoets); portly, no-nonsense cook Bella (Annet Malherbe); inexperienced chamber maid Gonnie (Eva van de Wijdeven); and randy handyman Meijer (Gijs Naber) -- put up with Emma's egregious lack of manners because they believe they will receive part of her inheritance. And to hear from Emma herself, the day she'll croak isn't too far off, so her servants swallow her increasingly ridiculous, often chuckle-inducing demands.

As is often the case in van Warmerdam's universe, nothing is what it seems. But whereas in his previous outings ("Waiter," "Little Tony") his slightly askew version of the real world felt coherent and somehow possible, in "Emma Blank," the mix of non sequiturs, deadpan comedy, more sincere drama and just plain wacky occurrences never quite gels.

The weirdest addition here is the character of Theo, played by van Warmerdam himself, who functions as the household dog, often humping his boss's leg and having to be taken outside to relieve himself. Rather than providing comic relief, the character unbalances the otherwise semi-serious tone.

Though the mood wavers, the ensemble acting is uniformly strong. Young van de Wijdeven, especially, is so convincing as the haughty maid, it's hard to believe the actress also played white-trash Desie in local B.O. hit "Dunya and Desie."

Though unmistakably a van Warmerdam film -- not least because of his presence onscreen -- "Emma Blank" seems infused with southern-Gothic elements, as if the helmer had been on a David Gordon Green binge before reworking his play. This feeling is reinforced by van Warmerdam's own score, which blends folksy guitar and harmonica, and the design for Emma's house, with its white-ledged windows and tarred walls. The rest of the tech package, led by Tom Erisman's impressive widescreen lensing, is slick.


Ober (2006) aka Waiter
Dir:Alex van Warmerdam

Ober, was one of the MANY films shown at the Seattle International Film Festival this year and one of the few I selected to view. Ober is a very black comedy which in many ways is an insider joke that only writers would fully appreciate. Often times when deeply involved in a writing project whether it is a screen play,stage play, or novel, a writer will feel like his/her characters have "taken on a life of their own". Well, this is what happens to Herman the screenwriter whose storyline begins to displease Edgar his main character.

There are some violent scenes, but so overplayed those scenes seem to be more parodies of movie violence than the "real" movie violence.

One scene toward the middle of this film is especially funny and painful at the same time. It involves an old shopkeeper and a bow and arrows. That scene appears to have been shot in "real" time,and with minimum edited put in the movie in real time. Funny and painful, but funny anyway.

Ober, which is German and Dutch for "waiter" is subtitled which for me was annoying. I understand a little bit of Dutch so I could pick up on some of the dialog and spent so much energy on listening, I missed reading some of the subtitles. It would be nice if this wacky gem could be dubbed into English.


Grimm (2003)

Dir;Alex van warmerdam

This is a story about a brother and a sister going on a journey together, because their parents didn't have money to support them anymore.

Where the movie is about a journey, the movie itself is like a journey too, where the viewer constantly falls into amazement, excitement, recognition, and sometimes a laughing fit. Its a surreal story that starts of exactly the same as Hansel and Grettel, but where you expect the brother and sister to find a house of candy, the movie takes a totally different turn, and goes on like that. Every time you think you know whats going to happen, its like the director says "ha ha, but I'm not that predictable" and sticking out his tong to you. This keeps the movie exciting and exhilarating till the end.

Little Tony

Little Tony (1998)
Dir:Alex van Warmerdam

For his fourth feature, Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam based this dark Dutch comedy on his own play about power struggles within a menage a trois at an isolated farmhouse where dull-witted farmer Brand (van Warmerdam) lives with his overweight wife Keet (Annet Malherbe), who is unable to bear a child. Since Brand is illiterate, Keet invites bright city gal Lena (Ariane Schluter) into the house to give Brand some book learning. As Brand becomes attracted to his curvy teacher, he gets encouragement from Keet, who makes him tell Lena that he and Keet are brother and sister. Lena moves in, and Brand is soon trapped between the two women. Keet represses her natural hostility toward Lena and moves into the background as Lena gives birth to Little Tony. At this point, Keet plans to get rid of Lena, but there are complications and twists. Shown in the Certain Regard section at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.

The Dress

The Dress(1996)
Dir:alex van Warmerdam

The Dress is a tale filled with sex, violence, comedy and drama as it follows the life of a dress. Conceived under a cloud of frustration and despair, the dress serves as the hub in a great wheel of misfortune in an extraordinary sequence of events that envelopes both the dress and those fatefully drawn into its universe. An aloof artist, a virginal school girl, an unfulfilled maid, a lowly train conductor and a broken business executive, all become involuntary players in a macabre game of tag. No one who comes in contact with the dress can escape its dramatic, shocking and hilarious consequences.

The Northeners

The Northeners(1992)
Dir;Alex van Warmerdam

A surreal black comedy set in a decrepit 1960's housing development. When his mother is drawn into sainthood and the resulting frustrations of his father become too difficult to manage, Thomas, a young boy, becomes obsessed with events on the broadcast news. The liberation of the Belgian Congo is taking place and Thomas becomes Lumumba, one of the contenders as the Congo's new leader. He is encouraged in this escapism by Plagge, the postman who reads all the mail and knows all of the bizzarre and intimate secrets of the eccentric inhabitants of the estate.


Dir;Alex van Warmerdam

With lots of insider Dutch jokes, this eccentric and uneven comedy from the Netherlands won't be to everyone's tastes. The Abel of the title is a 31-year-old weirdo who has never left the house he shares with his overly doting mother and his fractious father. The mother becomes increasingly strange in her behaviour and the fighting between the father and son intensify. When Abel gets thrown out of the family home, he finds solace in the arms of loose-living woman Zus, who, coincidentally, has been offering her ample breast as a comfort to Abel's father in times of trial. The visual gags are constant and the characters quirky, but it gets wearing after a time, which is a pity, because writer-director van Warmerdam, who also takes the lead role, shows he's got some good ideas bubbling around in here somewhere.