Paul Verhoeven's Turkish Delight (1973) is a very interesting film. It is regarded by many critics as the best film to ever come from the Netherlands, presenting a blend of audacious, exaggerated comedy together with a raw, emotional force when it suddenly switches gears in the final act, revealing its former comedy as the foremost exposed layer of a battered psyche struggling to understand something intimate and personal.

For the first hour, where Eric Volk (Rutger Hauer) is perpetually consumed with sex and sex alone, the film seemingly exists only as a critique of bourgeois ideals and allows Eric to subvert these principles with his vagabond lifestyle. As a result, these scenes are understood as necessary, but seldom seem to be revealing. Eric’s inner torment finally comes about once the film returns to its beginning dream of Eric killing his former wife Olga (Monique van de Ven). It is here that Verhoeven begins to play with more intricate ideas of psychology and pathology since Olga clearly desires Eric, yet she remains faithful to her upper crust parents and so she turns on her former lover and spouse.

For his part, Eric has done much to lead Olga into this decision. His refusal to mature is simultaneously his strongest attribute and his downfall, since he never maintains a steady income and often sells only the artwork that is most inappropriate to her, making what was once a private affair public. Yet there such moments of power when the two are together, most memorably the scene where the two lie in the street amidst a torrential downpour and just relax in each other’s arms, and these moments speak of the physicality that always lingers between them.
Indeed, the latter half of the film, wherein Verhoeven details how most/all of Eric's pathologies deride from the absence of his ex-wife, lead into a tender portrayal of desire as a psychological need. The last fifteen minutes especially turn this from a dark comedy into a tale of haunting introspection, when Olga’s health is threatened and Eric finally becomes the man she has always wanted him to be. Moreover, the ending works as a powerful parallel to her father’s passing, and Verhoeven handles it all delicately and develops it beautifully.

A wonderful score and film, Turkish Delight is always vibrant and alive

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Kent, Ohio, United States



Review by Brian Webster

Turkish Delight – a love story with a difference – starts brutal, shifts to crude and then cruises along as consistently outrageous. It’s the story of Erik (Rutger Hauer), a Dutch sculptor who occasionally manages to sell his work, despite his low regard for stuffed shirts, social climbers and those who dare to come between him and Olga (Monique van de Ven). She is a free spirit, daughter of furniture storeowners, who is taken by the unrefined charms of Erik. Hauer infuses Erik with an uncouth, seemingly callous intensity. He’s a dangerous fellow. Van de Ven is equally effective as the free-spirited Olga.

The film explores their relationship and what follows its tragic end. It is constructed discontinuously, with several flashbacks and flash-forwards that might give some audience members difficulty, but which establishes a very clear – and not particularly sympathetic – picture of Erik from the start.

Erik’s only way of expressing love is through sex, and while Olga appears to be happy with this, it eventually leads to his downfall. Erik does show a few tender moments, but for the most part, he’s a walking, talking recipe for offending bourgeois sensibilities. His stifling jealousy is a major issue, although it isn’t explored satisfactorily; one moment he and Olga are prancing about like carefree lovers, and the next she’s denouncing him. Jealousy seems like a non-issue until it becomes everything. As a result, the eventual conflict between Erik and Olga makes no sense.

Apart from the less than successful love story, there are moments of wonderfully black humour and no shortage of iconoclastic nuttiness, as Erik and Olga show up prudes and hypocrites. Scene after scene opens with a shocking image – often something that turns what came immediately before right on its head. When the social commentary is in play, it works marvellously. Unfortunately, the love story is realized much less successfully.

The movie is sexually explicit and often quite crude as director Paul Verhoeven clearly intends to take a poke at audience members who are as prudish as Erik’s many antagonists. In this effort, he succeeds brilliantly; it’s a searing social commentary. It would have been much more powerful if only Verhoeven gave us more insight into what makes Erik so anti-social. It just isn’t good enough to expect us to accept that he’s that way simply because he’s an independent-minded artist.

Is it enough for this shocking and ultimately tragic portrait of a man on the fringe of civil society to challenge and disturb us? Doesn’t it need to dig deeper and let us in on what has made him so terribly tormented? The film doesn’t hesitate to display maggots, genitalia, vomit and other shocking images, but after a while all this does is reinforce what we already know – Erik is angry; Erik is crude; Erik just likes to have sex. Unfortunately it’s not enough and Turkish Delight does need to dig deeper. In this regard, the film fails. Turkish Delight – like Erik – is powerful but lacks a clear sense of meaning.




Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Viewers who think that no-restraint director Paul Verhoeven's world began with RoboCop are getting a crash course in superior filmmaking from Anchor Bay this Spring. This disc is the Dutch director's breakthrough hit from 1973, a truly eye-opening, sexually frank romance between a bohemian artist and the young woman who said Yes ... again and again.


Eric Vonk (Rutger Hauer) is a young Dutch sculptor and ladies' man with a knack for picking up adventurous girls for wild bouts of lovemaking. He eventually meets Olga Staples (Monique van de Ven) and their mutual attraction is like two dogs in heat. Their first is consummated in her car, and followed by a serious accident. Interfering relatives can't keep them apart and soon the pair are living together in Eric's studio, making statues and making love 'round the clock. Eric is abrasive, destructive, intense, and selfish. Their bond seems made in heaven until Olga rebels and leaves him, stating the obvious fact that all he wants to do is make love. He's borderline out-of-control under normal circumstances, so what happens next is completely unpredictable.

Called in turn a Dutch Love Story, a horrible mess of tastelessness, and great art, Turkish Delight was made by a filmmaker dedicated to the concept of shock. This is as earthy as honest filmmaking gets: Billy Wilder in interviews claimed that interaction between real lovers doesn't stop at bourgeois niceties (such as Marlene Dietrich spitting toothpaste in her lover's face in A Foreign Affair) but here Paul Verhoeven goes full out with an intimate relationship seemingly without borders. Most bodily functions get involved; Verhoeven's philosophy seems to be that real commitment is messy, and he wastes no opportunity to rub our noses in this fact.

This insistence on in-your-face, blunt depictions of all kinds of activity (some not so 'shocking', just unexpected) does make Turkish Delight fascinating. It starts with full frontal male nudity & masturbation and goes on from there - and the really 'shocking' thing is that with all the 'nasty' content, the film never seems exploitative or less credible than any other intimate romance. Just more honest ... ? And certainly more messy.

Eric's lovemaking style has about as much finesse as the way he handles his bicycle - letting it smash into anything handy, scratching up parked cars, etc. His 'girlfriends' have bruises to think about before worrying about their trashed egos. You can tell it's love at first sight when he encounters the terminally game Olga, driving her daddy' Rolls-Royce. Within a half hour, Eric's gotten himself into a painful, There's Something About Mary situation with a certain body part and a zipper, and managed to crash the car too. A slap to the face is more often than not answered with a smile and more lovemaking; we aren't given much explanation for their break up, except Olga's protest against Eric's one-track sex drive.

The plot is almost as thin as Love Story's. The hero is left at the fadeout with a statue and a wig. Obvious similarities aside, it is true that most of the abrupt story turns are meant to simply be accepted - the source novel is said to be an account of a real relationship, and in a rollercoaster affair like this one, things happen without a literary structure to make them all seem 'motivated.' Content here is provided by the physical relationship in front of the camera. The daring of the performances is astonishing, and makes total mush of so-called 'edgy' American movie sex, even twenty-five years later. Forget about Sharon Stone parting her legs, which is as rough as Paul Verhoeven could get in America. The actors in this film are truly daring. Monique van de Ven is particularly good about being so darn honest with her clothes off that you never think this is some tart cozened into making a movie. Whether it's her open face or slightly toothy smile, you care intensely about her. Rutger Hauer is good as always, but we never quite warm up to him, even if we quietly admire his brand of bohemian anarchy.

Verhoeven's uninhibited glee for icky details apparently pays off here, for we buy the occasional clichéd scene, such as when Paul proves his capacity for tenderness by healing an injured seabird (which he ran over with a car, of course). Verhoeven also uses a partial flashback device, which comes off as as confusingly off-putting for a few minutes. That, and the freaky, brash sex in the first reel probably cleared all the prudes out of the theatres, to make room for the millions who made Turkish Delight the most popular Dutch film of all time.

Anchor Bay is turning out some of the smoothest foreign DVDs around. This one has a handsome 16:9 transfer, a strong soundtrack (nice jazz music) and those language-learning-friendly removable subtitles. The text on the jacket wrapper and in the bios in the menu are astute and informative: real comment on the films and personae as opposed to the publicity pap to which most major studios are pretty much forced to adhere. Paul Verhoeven's commentary track shows an intelligent man who is frank about his early career and the details of this picture. He's not the most-loved director at the moment, but the excesses and ugly miscalculations of something like Showgirls seem inevitable (not necessarily forgivable) given his all-consuming desire for challenging shock value.

Turkish Delight is indeed strong stuff, kind of a sexual gauntlet for the Meek Of Loin. PC types will be mortified - there's not a hint of social consciousness here, just crazy and irresponsible behaviour. 1 So it's that much more of a surprise when Verhoeven and co. generate such a strong emotional charge with their ending. Recommended, but if the movie causes arguments or breaks up a relationship, don't blame Savant.