Kleine Teun

(Little Tony)


There is an enjoyable element to the "absurd" quality of 'Alex van Warmerdam's films and there is undoubtedly an intentional and steady development in the way he molds his subject matter. From the qualities of "Abel", his feature film debut, which presented audiences with something different in the guise of something typically Dutch, through the "forest for the trees" diversions of "De Noorderlingen" ("The Northerners"), the episodic mini-epic travelogue from the fields of cotton to the bowels of the earth in "De Jurk" ("The Dress"), up to the intimate yet solitary secrets of "Kleine Teun" he shows that he knows how to craft a film as easily as a painting. As a reminder of his artistic roots as well an introduction to the tale, we view a panorama of canvases transverse the screen to set the scene.

Brand (Alex van Warmerdam) is a home-grown farmer, albeit not too bright, who leaves all the organizational matters, like shopping and cooking, to his dexterous, buxom wife, Keets (Annet Malherbe). She goes about her daily routine like a Sherman tank and would do anything within her capabilities for her man. Hiring a suitably attractive teacher named Lena (Ariane Schluter) to teach hubby how to read and write (no longer will it be necessary to translate the television subtitles for hubby), she has also devised a sinister plan to turn the tutor into a baby-maker. Incapable of bearing children any longer, she decides that this should not be a barrier to giving her husband a son. (Three guesses as to what the name of the child will be.) Manipulating the farmer and tutor into a relationship while simultaneously pretending not to be in control of the developing affair(s) is reason enough to turn the wife into the most interesting character among the trio. No one except the wife is fully aware of either the events or their potential repercussions. Brand continues watching the wonderful world of his personal household and its progress often through the miniature window of his toilet door and always through the blank openings of his eyes. Real life is apparently only another form of TV to him. One cannot help but wonder what these women see in this man. He appears to possess no redeeming qualities, unless they could possibly be found either in the vast barren territory on the landscape or the fertile area between his legs.

From film to film, director/writer van Warmerdam has becomes darker in his presentation of visions and this has sometimes become the source of either confusion or consternation among certain audiences of his countrymen who experienced his first film, "Abel", as a raucous comedy and expected the future to hold more of the same. His responds that, "Sometimes your own environment creates confusion. Everybody always wants to laugh. I find that revolting. Besides that, what others might find humorous is often not the same as what I find funny. I love black humor. When I'm writing a script I don't think: Oh, now I've got to write something that's fun. Quite the opposite, I often take jokes out. Throw them away. They'll start laughing again, I think to myself, and that'll ruin the whole thing." Nonetheless, the dark Dutch side he presents often includes the unexpected laugh.

Annet Malherbe, unsympathetic though her character may be in this tale, turns in the best performance of the film. (As real life companion to the author/director, she has undoubtedly had ample time to study the role.) Actor van Warmerdam appears in a characterization amazingly close to the ones we have seen him in previously. Ariane Schluter, as the catalytic third leg, turns in a good performance as she does her best to battle the forces surrounding her, but one wonders what makes a supposedly learned woman become so neurotic and foolish.

Alex van Warmerdam has established himself in minds of many Hollanders as the most interesting among the present day Dutch directors. His films are unquestionably high up among the ranks of good quality lowland films. His signature also remains firmly established on each of his works to date. Originally trained as an artist, his framing of cinematic images in this fourth film often bring such painters as DeChirico, Magritte and Hopper to mind. As well as starring (in a role originally performed on-stage by Kees Hulst) and directing, he has written the script and composed the music. Perhaps for his fifth film we can expect something that will become completely a one-man show?

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett