Is Paul Verhoeven Pulling a Fast One?
DIRECTED BY PAUL VERHOEVEN/DUTCH, ENGLISH/2012
STREET DATE: July 26, 2016/KINO LORBER
Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, as skillfully brazen as he’s proven himself to be, has nonetheless ended up with a filmography full of what many consider high-end larks. There is, of course, more to what he typically does than that. For just one example, underneath the boundary pushing and schlock-sploitation of films like RoboCop, Total Recall and even Showgirls and Hollow Man, there lurks a repeated loss of self narrative.
With Tricked, his 2012 short (running time: 55 minutes – not quite feature length, not quite truly “short”), it’s not so much loss of self as loss of screenplay. That is, in the conventional sense. Tricked (or Steekspel, as it’s known back home, where it was made) most certainly has a screenplay, although it’s quite unconventional in its realization.
In the doc, everyone hails this precarious approach as something bold, something that could CHANGE CINEMA FOREVER. I’m inclined to look at it as taking an already extremely difficult process – filmmaking – and intentionally making it far more difficult.
As detailed in a rambling 40 minute documentary that precedes the film proper, Tricked‘s screenplay writing process was intentionally outside of the box. Some sort of high profile contest, intended to directly involve the general public in the filmmaking experience. Verhoeven began with a four page beginning of an otherwise not-yet-existent screenplay, by professional screenwriter and actress Kim van Kooten.
From there, the general public was able to submit follow-up pages. The details of exactly how it worked are fuzzy, although Verhoeven talks several times about the sheer onslaught of submissions he had to deal with. He seems surprised and taken aback, but I’m not sure what else he expected. A big-name director courting every amateur, hungry screenwriter around? Of course he got deluged.
The challenge became making Tricked piecemeal; the actors never sure of what their characters motivation will turn out to be, and the filmmaker not knowing where the story is headed. In the doc, everyone hails this precarious approach as something bold, something that could CHANGE CINEMA FOREVER. I’m inclined to look at it as taking an already extremely difficult process – filmmaking – and intentionally making it far more difficult.
In any case, Verhoeven and company got away with it. Their grand contest/experiment yielded an amusingly taut little bit of delicious family cynicism. In the story, a frequently cheating husband is being angled out of his own flailing architectural firm, which is on the brink of a major positive turnaround. One of the perpetrators of his ousting is a former fling, now claiming to be eight months pregnant with his child. Meanwhile, his current mistress (who is also his daughter’s best friend and the source of his son’s creepy crush) is not happy about it. His wife, even less so. What’s a wealthy jerk to do??
But wait – why is the title “Tricked“…? Although the story itself reflects it, I for one wouldn’t be shocked if it bore greater significance than the film’s plot itself. Who knows, perhaps one day we‘ll one day found out that Verhoeven and company abandoned the open contest aspect at some point in production, and resorted to a conventionally written screenplay. I certainly wouldn’t put it passed Verhoeven, a director with so many old tricks in is past, to have pulled on over yet again.
But here’s the thing. By formatting this DVD in such a way that the preliminary making-of doc has to precede the short when “play” is pressed, the entire experience becomes strained. The short film Tricked is good enough to stand by itself, but I suppose it was decided that a subtitled Dutch language short film with no stars must have more to sell it to North American audiences. Along those lines, there are numerous extras of varying weight: Interviews, behind the scenes footage of Verhoeven directing, and more.
At the end of the opening documentary, Verhoeven states that the making of Tricked has resulted in it being one of his most personal films. He then refuses to elaborate. Not that he needs to, but after sitting through the disjointed forty minute making-of, such a dangling pronouncement feels less like a trick than a reveal withheld, an impossible layer of significance grafted onto an otherwise perfectly tricky little film.