Dir. Alex van Warmerdam. The Netherlands, 2003. 104mins.
Looking both grim and Grimm (as in the Brothers), this modern nightmarish fairytale has nevertheless enough weird humour in it to legitimately qualify as a comedy, though there is nothing funny going on throughout. The way Dutch director Warmerdam applies his wicked touch to what could vaguely be defined as a modern take on Hansel And Gretel will not be to everyone's taste. But in the right hands this offbeat combination of road movie, thriller, horror picture and bogus western should do well in specialised positions and breeze its way through festivals with a chance of becoming a long term cult item. Following a pair of siblings lost in a wintry Dutch forest all the way to the dangers of sunny Spain, where - to use the film's definition - the weather is hot and the soup is cold, Warmerdam pretends to be earnest - but anyone inclined to accept that he is would be well advised to stay away. Film buffs who like to dig for deadpan sarcasm lying under the surface will most likely appreciate it. The film played in competition at San Sebastian.
In his previous work Warmerdam has poked fun at the Dutch: for his first outing across national borders he adds the Spaniards to his list of victims. If he is planning a film in your country, be warned.
A theatre person who has never quite divested his identity in the films he makes, it is more than tempting to divide Warmerdam's latest picture into separate acts, each with its own particular title.
Act one: Grimm fairytale in the woods. Marie (Halina Reijn) and Jacob (Jacob Derwig), whose incestuous affection for each other is revealed after about two minutes, are abandoned by their father in the woods. Jacob finds a note in his coat, telling him they should go to their uncle in Spain. Taken in by a peasant, Jacob is forced at gunpoint by his host to mount his portly wife, who he cannot service any more. Next morning, the siblings make their escape in a most unexpected manner, leaving behind the peasant, his wife and their cow, all of them apparently dead. The dog has been eaten the day before.
Act two: Natural Born Killers under the highway. Going South, Marie plays the prostitute to make some money, Jacob can't stand it, does away with her customer and after ascertaining he is dead, they ride away on a scooter, into a magic tunnel - on one side it is freezing Dutch weather, on the other, balmy Iberian spring.
Act three: hold-up at the gas station. Before they reach their uncle, Mary needs a new outfit, so she walks into a ladies room in a gas station and walks out in the two-piece suit of a woman driver who was reckless enough to use that facility.
Act four: Gothic horror at the hacienda. The pair find their uncle is dead, so instead land on the estate of a handsome surgeon, Diego (Carmelo Gomez) and his bizarre sister Teresa (Elvira Minguez). Diego marries Marie, Jacob tries to interfere, but little does he know that there are more reasons for concern than the sight of his sister making love in the bathroom.
Act five: High Noon in the South of Spain. Escaping from the clutches of the sinister Hispanic household, Marie and Jacob hide in the abandoned set of a Western town, the best place to have the final parody of a shoot-out.
Throughout the film the pair leave in their deadly naive wake a trail of bodies, yet Grimm is a fairytale both by title and definition. No one in the audience is supposed to be emotionally affected by what is going on and any comparison with vaguely similar items such as Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers or Ozon's Les Amants Criminels would be simply out of place. There is no question here of morality or conscience or even passion: if anything, it is a send-up of them all.
Warmerdam gleefully takes his film cliches to the brink of absurdity, just far enough to make it clear that he knows exactly what he is doing. Briskly edited in his typical laconic style, every frame is blocked as if it was a stage set-up, with Tom Eriseman's precise camera work providing full support whether in the darkness of the Dutch forest (the film was shot in Germany as there are no such woods in the Netherlands) or the full Andalusian light, imposing a deadly serious demeanour on the actors who are only to happy to accommodate.
Finally, if all his previous films were wickedly poking fun at everything Dutch, for his first outing across the national borders he ads the Spaniards to his list of victims. If he is planning a film in your country, be warned.
Prod co: Graniet Film BV
Int'l sales: Fortissimo Films
Prod: Marc van Warmerdam
Scr: Alex van Warmerdam
Cinematography: Tom Erisman
Ed: Stefan Kamp
Prod des: Miguel Lopez Pelegrin
Costumes: Bina Daigeler, Leonie Polak
Music: Alex van Warmerdam
Sound: Peter Flamman
Main cast: Halina Reijn, Jacob Derwig, Carmelo Gomez, Elvira Minguez, Ulises Dumont, Frank Lammers, Annet Malherbe, Maria Teresa Berganza, Peggy Sandaal, Henri Garcin, Ingeborg Elzevier