Sexed-up Dutch Drama Charts a Couple Living Apart Together.
DIRECTED BY PIM DE LA PARRA, JR./DUTCH/1973
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JUNE 5, 2018/CULT EPICS
Frank is a terrible person. From the moment we meet him, he’s witnessed to be a self-centered, chronically philandering attention-monger. In one famous scene, occurring early in the film, Frank’s young female date and passenger in his car (soon-to-be Emmanuelle star Sylvia Kristel, in her screen debut) can’t resist a teasing bout of writhing and some stripping. As one might guess, this makes for some rather distracted driving. Just as soon as Frank’s totaled his vehicle, he panics, instructs the girl to take blame, and flees the scene on foot. A class act, indeed.
But, backing up further, when we first meet Frank (played by Hugo Metsers, previously the desensitized lead in 1970’s Blue Movie), he’s dead. But not to spoil anything, it turns out his bedridden suicide by Luger is straight out of the Harold Chasen (of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude) playbook. Despite the panic of others, Eva (Dutch star Willeke van Ammelrooy), his committed longtime lover, housemate, and other half, isn’t phased. In this single moment, van Ammelrooy thoroughly sells Eva’s justifiably chronic frustration with Frank. In his portrayal, Metsers impressively manages to never sand off Frank’s rough edges, all the while remaining that somehow-magnetic creep that Eva is drawn to- often despite her better judgement.
Throughout the film, van Ammelrooy plays Eva as a beautiful, beleaguered everywoman, someone entirely sympathetic and yet not at all above horrendous means of revenge and/or attempts at control. It’s a precarious line for any actress to walk, particularly when she’s expected to physically give as much as she does here. The long career that she’s gone on to have (including later-in-life roles in 2006’s The Lake House and Antonia’s Line) is indeed a well deserved one.
The movement that simultaneously spawned Frank & Eva and that Frank & Eva helped to explode is known as the Dutch “sex wave“ for a reason. According to van Ammelrooy (per the Blu-ray’s 2017 featurette “Up Front & Naked: Sex in Dutch Films”), the rationale back then was that the only way Dutch films could attract any kind of audience, what with their garish production values and thrift store design aesthetic, was if they include nudity. And include it they have, though it must be said that the movement’s moniker was ultimately reductive, at the very least in the face of what Scorpio Films was actually doing.
Though explicit and perhaps gratuitous, particularly by western standards, the boundaries-smashing films of Scorpio’s “Pim and Wim” (Pim de la Parra Jr. and Wim Verstappen) are first and foremost relatable (at least on some level) human dramas. Scorpio, so the legend goes, singlehandedly eradicated the Dutch film censorship authorities, thus opening the floodgates to a future of even more risqué and adventurous cinema. Pim and Wim would become millionaires before going their separate ways; luminaries such as Paul Verhoeven would follow in their tracks.
Regarding the loose nature of the titular central relationship, de la Parra’s forthright revelations during his recently recorded audio commentary track sheds light on certain obtuse sensibilities herein. Though de la Parra repeatedly states that Frank is “out looking for hamburger when he’s got steak at home”, the casualness with which the characters dismiss each other’s flings can’t not be informed by the filmmaker’s own open marriage, which he reveals was going on at the time of this production. Hence, Frank & Eva wields a kind of covert counter-cultural attitude towards relationships, the proverbial commitment without strings. Though this is not at all the specific set-up for Frank & Eva themselves, this rarer point of view, in all its own complications, is no doubt key to tracking and understanding the decisions of the main characters on a deeper level. In the end, Frank & Eva is not promoting any such lifestyle as it is attempting to honestly depict a removed version of it (albeit sans vows), in all its ramshackle and toil.
The venerable boutique label Cult Epics has taken on Blu-ray distribution of their very impressive releases of the key titles from the Scorpio era. (Blue Movie has since followed, with My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie on the way) and Frank & Eva, a very popular Dutch hit and the biggest film of de la Parra’s career, properly retains its era-appropriate veneer of grain and grime in a terrifically authentic audio/visual presentation. Extra features abound for viewers who are curious to learn more about the “Dutch sex wave”, including the afore-mentioned “Up Front & Naked: Sex in Dutch Films” featurette, HD photo galleries for Frank & Eva and all of the posters for the late Sylvia Kristel’s films. The package includes a DVD of the film as well, and is quite handsome to boot.
Scandalously erotic, yes; though ultimately Frank & Eva is far more well-rounded than all that. (Don’t be fooled by the disc’s main menu video). That this film makes ample room for the Lex Goudsmit’s heart-aching performance as the hobbling geriatric Max certainly takes it far outside of the accused realm of porn. Frank & Eva are, no doubt, doomed to go around and around for all their lives. And now that it’s readily available on Blu-ray, so to is Frank & Eva. Fans are well served by this release of an essential, if thoroughly uneasy, piece of Dutch cinema.