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:
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
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
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.