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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Searching round on IMDb a few months ago,I stumbled upon an excellent
review by a fellow IMDber about lead actress Sylvia Kristel's film
debut.Tracking down the DVD,I was disappointed to find,that despite
having English subtitles,the DVD did not have any audio! Being
desperate to view the title,I started frantically searching round
online,so that I could finally meet Frank and Eva.
Crashing into a car whilst drink driving, Frank leaves behind the car and his girlfriend,and rushes back to his wife Eva.Running a small clothing business,Eva finds her time being consumed by the challenges of keeping the business afloat,while Frank makes the most of their "open" marriage arrangement.Having given Frank the cash to pay for the gas & electricity,Eva is left speechless when a man comes round from the gas board,telling Eva that she has to pay now,or else everything will be turned off.
Returning home,Frank finds that all the power has been turned off.Meeting the furious face of his wife,Frank finds out that Eva has refused to pay the bill,due to him having misused the cash that was meant for it.Visiting a gynaecologist after she has secretly stopped taking "the pill" for the last few weeks,Eva is shocked to discover that she is pregnant.Giving Frank the good news,Frank and Eva soon find themselves struggling with the idea that their "open marriage" may soon become closed off.
View on the film:
Straddling between the Art House and the Grind House,co-writer/ (along with Charles Gormley) director Pim de la Parra and cinematographer Frans Bromet gives the film a raw Kitchen Sink atmosphere by painting the entire location in worn out browns & blues,which along with expressing the fading intimacy in Frank & Eva's marriage,also allows for moments of suggestive sensuality to shine.For the sex scenes between Frank & Eva,Parra keeps away from giving them a glossy porn movie appearance,by instead focusing on the couples struggle to express themselves to each other.
While the screenplay does run the risk of being a rather grim affair,the writer's make sure to keep the sparks alive by surrounding the care-free Frank with a group of wonderful,off-beat characters,from an old man who sees his younger self in Frank,to an easy-going young women,who shows that looks can be deceiving. Largely focusing on the marriage,the writers spend the 90 minute running time dissecting each part of the marriage piece by piece,with a wraparound scene being expertly used to show the deterioration that the marriage has suffered throughout the film.
Making her film debut in a supporting role, Sylvia Kristel gives a terrific performance as Sylvia (what an original name for the character!) with Kristel giving Sylvia some good shots of sass,and also displaying a caring side,in an unexpectedly tender manner.Joining Kristel, Lex Goudsmit gives a brilliant performance as Max,with Goudsmit showing Max's heart to be desperate to keep up with Frank,but his body telling him that it is time to leave the party.
Closely working together, Hugo Metsers and the very pretty Willeke van Ammelrooy each give tremendous performances which beautifully bounce off each other.Entering the movie soaked in booze,Metsers shows a will glee in his eyes as Frank goes out on the town to make the most of his "open" relationship. As the number of women and drinks start to mount up,Metsers shows a terrifying sense of doubt unravel across Frank's face,as Frank finds himself being unable to stop his marriage from disintegrating. Avoiding the risk of the character being too straight-lace, Willeke van Ammelrooy shows Eva's desperation to express herself sexually,but finding nothing at all being given in return by Frank,which helps to make Frank & Eva's film an amazing experience.
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