Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Flesh + Blood: The Films of Paul Verhoeven which runs from January 24th to April 4th at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
A plane lands in Amsterdam International Airport and a man urgently rushes off of the plane on some unknown mission. He takes pensive glances of the concrete landscape before getting into a cab to embark on his mission of seemingly tantamount importance. Spy music plays as his taxi speeds through orange sunset explosions to arrive at an apartment, the destination for his secret rendezvous. Prices are frantically negotiated with a woman with Sophia Loren features as she remains apathetic to the man’s desperate mission. He awkwardly mounts the woman to satiate his long unfulfilled carnal desires and for all his troubles and desperation he manages to complete one thrust before this episode of erotic espionage is complete. Slumped over in exhaustion brought on more by the journey than the brief encounter at his destination, the man hears the unmistakable sounds of a cash register as a streetwise prostitute of the Amsterdam canals presents him with a receipt for her momentary inconvenience, complete with VAT taxes and surcharges and a look of impatient disgust. For this man the all too brief encounter was a mission on par with acts of global espionage, but for Greet this was just another day on the job. Paul Verhoeven has set up the first scene in his feature length debut as an elaborate joke, playing on audience expectations with borrowed spy movie tropes to take us into the strange chaotic life of an Amsterdam prostitute.
Paul Verhoeven has set up the first scene in his feature length debut as an elaborate joke, playing on audience expectations with borrowed spy movie tropes to take us into the strange chaotic life of an Amsterdam prostitute.
Greet is a woman who pretends to be larger than her drab surroundings. She carries out her daily errands with bombastic orange hair and matching convertible wearing a bright blue vinyl overcoat that sets her apart from the bored denizens of daylight Amsterdam. She remains cold and sadistic to maintain a distance from the absurdities of her daily life as she goes to shoe shops looking for high heels in men’s sizes or a costume shop looking for the most terrifying mask on the shelves for a “child’s party”. She is brash against the indifference of the complacent and “normal”, often acting out as a voluntary social pariah, jaded against life’s superficial niceties by the odd parade of characters that fill her daily life. It’s a strange life, but it keeps the bills paid and the tacky baroque tchochkes that fill her apartment in full supply, ready for the strange sexual desires of her odd and affluent customer base as they play weird games of lust fulfillment. Part of her knows that this life will not provide for her needs forever, but she knows no other life and time is passing too quickly for her to make other considerations.
Strange faces are given uncomfortable closeups as Verhoeven looks directly into the bizarre desires of men, their wretched faces illuminated by the multicolored lights of the Amsterdam night scene.
Strange faces are given uncomfortable closeups as Verhoeven looks directly into the bizarre desires of men, their wretched faces illuminated by the multicolored lights of the Amsterdam night scene. These men want nothing but the satisfaction of their eccentric desires when carrying out their business with Greet and more often than not these desires would yield little in the way of conventional sexual satisfaction, but Greet treats every request with the same apathetic enthusiasm. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement and no party is particularly proud of their part, but the bills must be paid and “business is business”. She finds temporary respite in the arms of a man named Piet who gets the elusive privilege of the “free ride” despite both parties secretly knowing that their worlds are too different to ever merge in any official capacity. The inconvenient pregnancy of Piet’s wife strips Greet of any chances she may have had for escaping this strange life. In the end it’s the only life she knows, but it is not without benefits as a man who gets his kicks from cleaning her apartment in high heels and a maid’s hat shows up after a party to an immaculate mess. Her only friend had just gotten married and is moving on to a life of unenviable domestication, but Greet isn’t allowed a moment to consider the future as her business must carry on.
Business is Business and its odd array of derelicts is stylistic and charged with the frenetic energies of Amsterdam nightlife, incessantly moving from one odd fetishistic scenario to the next, never allowing Greet to make plans for her own future as she provides for the strange needs of her clientèle. Each piece in her apartment of baroque oddities is there for the satisfaction of others as Greet herself is uncertain of where true happiness lies. Perhaps it is her lot to satisfy the needs of others until she is no longer capable, wearing a world-weary grin as she plays strange games of doctor into her twilight years, the pastel posse of whores that fill the red light district acting as both fraternity and family as she makes it to the next day, ready to carry out the only business that she knows.
[notification type=”star”]68/100 ~ OKAY. Business is Business and its odd array of derelicts is stylistic and charged with the frenetic energies of Amsterdam nightlife, incessantly moving from one odd fetishistic scenario to the next.[/notification]