Paul Verhoeven: The One-Man Dutch Film Industry

Paul Verhoeven: The One-Man Dutch Film Industry

Book your stay in Amsterdam, and you’ll soon see why Paul Verhoeven became who he is

today: an often misunderstood but vastly influential filmmaker who is in many

ways, as dubbed offhand by a


Times critic in 1985, a one-man Dutch film industry. If you happen to run

into the auteur, be sure to ask him if, by any chance, he used to watch

Saved by the Bell.

Paul Verhoeven emerged onto the world stage in 1973 with

Turkish Delight, starring Rutger Hauer

alongside the beautiful and child-like Monique van de Ven and telling a rough-hewn

love story over the picturesque backdrop of Amsterdam. To re-live your favorite scenes, plop

your girlfriend on your bike’s luggage rack and take her for a ride around

Vondel Park, or through the crowds in Dam Square. Tuck skirt into underwear for maximum effect. You can also head to the sea outside

Amsterdam, find a seagull with a broken leg and recall the heartbreaking

resurrection of Hauer’s character as he nursed a wounded bird back to health.

The seagull, as heavy-handed as it may be, represents Verhoeven’s

unique strength: adding dimension to platitudes by simply making them more obvious.

Turkish Delight elicits audience

compassion by portraying love almost exclusively through sex acts, and the

pinnacle of the characters’ intimacy is arguably when Hauer parades van de

Ven’s feces around their apartment, held gingerly between his fingers like a Madeleine.

It’s not subtle, but it gives the audience a visceral reaction that reels us in

and keeps us engaged on an almost personal level. Later films, made in the USA as well as the Netherlands, use

the same strategy:

Starship Troopers

features such shiny caricatures of Hollywood good-guys that watching them die

feels like watching Santa Claus fall out of his sleigh.


didn’t invent the stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold persona, but Verhoeven’s treatment

brought it to its conceivable apex.

In 2006, Paul Verhoeven returned to the Netherlands and

promptly created

Black Book, which

subsequently was voted “Best Dutch Film of All Time” by his countrymen. In this film, arguably his most

sincere, he explores the contradictions of familiar war-movie themes: military,

rebellion, patriotism and loyalty.

Including his earlier

Soldier of

Orange, his WWII-inspired films rewrite the past using the same language of

extremes found throughout his portfolio. It’s easy to imagine that a young

Verhoeven, living his primary-school years under Nazi occupation, may have come

to understand many complex themes through a very similar set of visual building


While you’re in Amsterdam, don’t miss your chance to study

up on the Netherlands’ experience of WWII. The Dutch Resistance, providing the basis for

Black Book and

Soldier of Orange, is explored in the


in Amsterdam’s Plantage District.

The Anne Frank House and the Jewish Historical Museum offer

insight into everyday life under Nazi occupation, and memorials like the Hollandsche Schouwburg theater

help drive home the severity with which the small country was coerced into

giving up its identity. If you’re having trouble understanding why explicit sex

is an obvious stand-in for love, a stroll though

De Wallen, the city’s red light district, will undoubtedly set you right.