De Pijnbank

Let's say it right away: Paul de Leeuw proves his ability as a dramatic actor to any doubting Thomases who might have suspected that his talents were restricted to cabaret and TV talk shows (always thriving in Holland). To those from other countries, as yet unfamiliar with Paul, this message might be not be completely clear and possibly be quite confusing, but accept it, in that case, as a Dutch cult message. Yes, it would seem, long gone are the days of free performances at Van Der Valk.

Big business and fusions, isn't it enough to drive you crazy? Wait. Big man Peter de Bock (Jack Wouterse) and colleague Martin Krawinkel (Eric van Sauers) fill their daily routine at the bank by closing contracts with applicants for stocks and loans. A fly arrives in the perennial ointment, however, when Bouke van Lier (Roeland Fernhout) appears on the scene as new bank manager as a result of a fusion with a second bank. Yes, as the world turns, the heads will roll. Reorganization is the word of the day and Bouke leaves no switch unbugged in his ruthless attempt to be the yuppical tyrannical ruler of the roost. Ah, is this what "God" means? He puts the Buddhist meditator and cool-cold-cucumber Martin into the same office with Peter and waits for the desired results.

After a feeble attempt at trying to convince Peter that his future might be sunnier elsewhere, Bouke tries other methods to destroy the massive man's steadfastness which does eventually begin to slip and slide toward desperation and hopelessness. Bouke is less successful in his attempt to break Martin, who, when accused of fraud, remains unmoved. While searching for a suitable accomplice, van Lier happens to discover the name of Jos Flierboom (Paul de Leeuw), a man still suffering from the trauma of bankruptcy once instituted against him by Peter de Bock as representative of the bank, and decides that this man could be the perfect instrument in furthering van his destructive plan. Once the new man is added into the quotient, the figures begin to turn. Everybody switches sides, turns around, declaims, denies and betrays, but, after all, that's business.

Director Theo van Gogh's (yes, folks, family, but not the brother) new film is, as his last, derived (adapted? reworked?) from an original stage play. Theo, who was originally advisor to the stage director (what a curious construction!) for the play written by Justus van Oel, has taken the manuscript as foundation, included the original theme of "torture for money", situated it in a more realistic environment (for the most part), "deepened the psychology" (I quote), doubled the number of characters, and, oh yes, changed the original plot. Other than that, it would seem, it's the same piece. Oddly enough, playwright van Oel has also written the scenario.

Both Jack Wouterse and Paul de Leeuw turn in admirable performances, but are unable to contend with the unfortunate shifting from realistic to absurd situations in direction and plot. The film does have its moments and many will likely find it worth sitting through the entire 100 minutes to see them.

After the first twenty minutes, one has the tendency to think it might have been easier, more leisurely, not to mention enjoyable, to read it as a novel, but, as stated above, originally it wasn't a novel, it was a play. The two-character stage play has, it seems, a sharper edge because of the focus on the relationship between two men which makes one recall the old adage "less is more." The tension and unease that might have caused an audience to get involved is lacking in this cinematic version.

Now, of course, the problem could rest partially with the amount of finance that was readily available. Despite their record, neither Theo van Gogh's nor Paul de Leeuw's name was sufficient to receive a subsidy for the project and so they courageously united their forces and their finances to make the film anyway. One must admire their talent and their tenacity. It was shot in 12 days and would probably have profited from more money, more time, and a talented scriptwriter.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett