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.
The wistful bleating of a saxophone sets a nighttime scene of loneliness and lost love. We are in a dangerous land of blood and night as we are presented with an unflinching look into depravity and ultraviolence that would permeate Paul Verhoeven’s career as Rutger Hauer has sadistic visions of murder. He seems disconnected from the world around him as he engages in fantasies of murder in his decrepit apartment surrounded by rotting foods and refuse. He frantically masturbates to a picture of a naked woman with a sense of frustrated urgency until slumping over from exhaustion and dissatisfaction. Was this woman a victim of Hauer’s derangement? Is she part of some untenable fantasy that pervades the thoughts of this afflicted behemoth of a man? We aren’t really clued into the nature of Hauer’s inner torture as he takes to the streets to force himself on an endless parade of women, fucking with unfeeling manic intensity while proclaiming that he “fucks better than god” before moving to his next target. What tortures this manic lion of sexual energies and forces him back out onto the streets for more prey to bring back to his treacherous den?
We are in a dangerous land of blood and night as we are presented with an unflinching look into depravity and ultraviolence that would permeate Paul Verhoeven’s career…
Flashback to two years earlier and we find a more tempered version of this lustful lunatic, a man with a purpose driven life as he works on sculptures to be appreciated by the idiot denizens of high society. He is still very much a lion among sheep, but he is able to use these unfettered energies in his artistic efforts. The world won’t suffer a maniac, but it will better tolerate the eccentricities of a talented and tortured artist. He drifts through life never asking permission nor begging forgiveness and through fate finds himself in the arms (and between the legs) of a young woman named Olga who becomes the object of his fascination and lustful desires. An automobile accident shows us that this lion is capable of empathy as he holds the fragile Olga, bleeding in the streets basked in magic hour lightshows as highway traffic indifferently zooms around them. He is completely entranced by Olga from their first moments together, and no intrusive mother or her secret Turkish lover would stop him from getting to what he desires.
The two quickly marry in a group ceremony and they engage in passionate acts of lovemaking surrounded by the exploding star figures of Fassbinder’ian candlelight in front of mirrors as they take a rare moment to cherish their perfect youthful beauty. Olga sleeps innocently, sucking her thumb as Hauer’s Eric Vonk watches on in studious silence until dawn. The two would honeymoon on beaches, running in divine golden sunsets along shores seemingly made just for them. They would make an honest attempt at a life together, but sometimes even the most perfect love can be destroyed by sickness and madness.
Verhoeven takes the classic tale of forbidden lovers and adds elements of decay and putrefaction that mimic the secret imperfections of love that eventually manifest in perfect clarity once the initial lust has settled and life’s realities begin to take hold. Dogs make meals of the bloody show left on a chair by a pregnant woman during the communal wedding ceremony. Flowers draped over Olga’s naked body reveal secret passengers of worms and insects once the flowers are removed and the couple has received news that Olga’s ailing father is about to die. Hauer’s Eric Vonk readily accepts the festering realities of life as his artistic soul finds beauty in the unfettered and natural elements of decay that are unavoidable truths of an organic existence, but Olga harbors deep seated fears instilled by cancer that has taken her mother’s breast and ultimately her father’s life. She finds herself no longer contented with the frank and desirous nature of Eric’s artistic soul and ends the relationship in a scene filled with vomit and sinew, appropriate mis en scene to accompany the death of love.
Verhoeven takes the classic tale of forbidden lovers and adds elements of decay and putrefaction that mimic the secret imperfections of love that eventually manifest in perfect clarity once the initial lust has settled and life’s realities begin to take hold.
Eric’s fantasies at the beginning of the film are finally contextualized as his relationship with Olga comes to an unpleasant end, her erratic behavior possibly driven by unseen decay that is taking away her mental faculties as Verhoeven uses our fear of mortality to illustrate the complex nature of love. Turkish Delight is a powerful film that purposely confronts the viewer with uncomfortable imagery that seems gratuitous until the pieces finally come together to expose the uncomfortable truths of life. Youth and beauty are fleeting but their transience does not rob them of their sublime power, but ultimately the only certainty in this mortal plane is death and decay. Verhoeven confronts this discomforting decay directly, allowing the juxtaposition of perfect youthful beauty and its inevitable deterioration to create a powerful film on the multifaceted realities of love.
[notification type=”star”]90/100 ~ AMAZING. Turkish Delight is a powerful film that purposely confronts the viewer with uncomfortable imagery that seems gratuitous until the pieces finally come together to expose the uncomfortable truths of life. [/notification]