Adamant anarchists who refused to back down while blowing apart local commissions of film funding and artistic appraisal holding Dutch cinema in suffocating stranglehold, Pim de la Parra and Wim Verstappen introduced the specter of screen sex to the nation's staid and stubbornly provincial movie industry with 1971's bare box office blast BLUE MOVIE. That film almost singlehandedly supplied cinema of the Netherlands with an image of naughtiness that would stick throughout the entire decade, making male lead Hugo Metsers the country's premier screen stud well ahead of Turkish DELIGHT's Rutger Hauer. For Pim and Wim, the battle had only begun. Having jointly erected Scorpio films in 1965 as an art-house outlet, they had to struggle for government subsidizing until the lucrative switch to skin allowed them to thumb their noses at the outraged officials, even though forced to compromise their artistic integrity in the process.
Essentially a pencil-drawn portrait of a "modern" (open) marriage's disintegration in the wake of the '60s sexual revolution that had shaped Amsterdam into an anything goes naughty Neverland, FRANK & EVA is the duo's attempt to straddle the fence in making a realistic sex film with psychological insight. Unfortunately, latter aspect was lost on contemporary critics and audiences alike, who still showed up in droves to gawk at the expertly exposed bodies of Metsers, Willeke van Ammelrooy (just emerging as Holland's hottest export) and then still unknown Sylvia Kristel, mere months away from EMMANUELLE. In retrospect, the efforts to achieve depth seem more like spoilsport moralizing on part of its makers. The hangover of the previous decade's hard-won freedoms had started to kick in, dictating behavior as much as the preceding restrictive patriarchy. This approach reduced the main characters to archetypes at best, stereotypes at worst. Disenchanted with society's supplanting one set of rules with another no less rigid, Eva's (mostly) monogamous, fretting about the daily drudgery of her clothes-making business and bills to be paid, waiting for her man to come to his senses and join her in domestic(ated) "bliss". Frank can't help but live up (or down) to the male ideal of the time and place, compulsively bedding anything in skirts (or bell bottom pants) with precious little evidence of elation.
Narrative's episodic structure hardly helps, further restricting Frank and Eva's status to that of pre-programmed lab rats with self-contained segments illustrating his or her response to a textbook relationship crisis. The actors are not at fault, doing the best they can under the circumstances but having their thunder stolen by the supporting cast of "colorful" characters. Although one questionable highlight forces her to roll around on a pool table in little more than stockings and garters, topped off with a bottom-hugging micro skirt, Kristel scores as an apparently uncomplicated good time girl whose wordless act of kindness at the deathbed of elderly Max provides the picture with perhaps its single most moving moment, all the more so for coming completely out of the blue. Slightly unnerving for viewers of my generation to see hard-drinking, chain-smoking Max played by none other than the late Lex Goudsmit who was already on his way to becoming the Lowlands' ideal grandfather on a spectacular slew of TV kiddie shows.
Compared to some of Scorpio's subsequent skin flicks, such as the cheerfully sleazy MY NIGHTS WITH SUSAN, SANDRA, OLGA & JULIE, this one seriously strives for something more but it doesn't always come off. Deliberately dowdy camera work by the esteemed Frans Bromet, a fine (documentary) filmmaker in his own right, robs the city of canals of tourist trap glamor by emphasizing the conflicting illusions Frank and Eva delude themselves with, if perhaps not each other as the haunting final image tentatively suggests. Following another fake suicide (another of which opens the film, only now there's an actually - accidentally ? - loaded gun involved), Frank cowers in Eva's embrace, neither character sure of where to go from here, a metaphor for the forcefully liberated middle class but thankfully devoid of the heavy-handedness that mars much of the rest of the movie.
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