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The young girl Keetje moves to Amsterdam in 1881 with her impoverished family, and is led into prostitution in order to survive. In the process she sees the corrupting influence of money. Written by
Doug Shafer <email@example.com>
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I was recently given the Anchor Bay DVD release of this title as a present, and I have to say that while I am impressed with the usual European frankness about things that would never make it into American films, this is probably among the least of Paul Verhoeven's work. Not that this is bad from the get-go. I would far prefer to watch a bad film from Paul Verhoeven than what could be considered good among the stables of directors like Peter Jackson or Jerry Bruckheimer. They say that the key to artistic success is being honest with yourself, and Verhoeven is a big example of the principle. More on that in a moment.
The story of Keetje Tippel concerns itself with a young woman named Keetje, who migrates from one end of Holland to another during the nineteenth century. The name might be obvious from the title, but one thing that should have been made clearer is that Tippel is not her family name. Tippel actually refers to the profession she winds up taking in order to fuel her rise from the gutter.
At the beginning of the film, Keetje is an idealist with little, if any, idea of how the capitalist society she enters actually works. She starts out going from one crappy job to the next. The first of which makes it clear that worker health and safety was a very minor concern at best in this primitive era. We see Keetje and numerous other workers dipping textiles into lye, no gloves or any other kind of protection, and we see its effects at various stages in the film. From there, Keetje falls into working as a seamstress, and eventually, as a prostitute.
One touch of Dutch cinema that I've always liked since I have become acquainted with it through Verhoeven's work is that there isn't always a happy ending. In Keetje Tippel, our titular hero does nothing to help the poor that she was once a member of. In fact, one of the many things she winds up doing in the latter part of the film hurts them very badly. This can be understood when one looks at some attitudes to what people feel when they get out of a situation they cannot stand. For example, were I to leave Australia and live somewhere like England, the only way in which I would lift a finger to help others who are unhappy with the lot Australia has is by helping them leave. Like rats from a sinking ship, as it were. That's the attitude of the character, and it is even more understandable in the context of nineteenth century social conditions.
The thing that keeps Keetje Tippel from obtaining the unqualified ten out of ten rating I normally give Verhoeven's Dutch-language films is, ironically, the same thing that normally prompts this rating. For once, the brutal honesty and unflinching depiction of reality counts against the film. Rather than the stomach churning for a second before expressing amazement, I found myself asking if the depiction of bodily functions is really necessary. Those who have seen the uncut versions of Soldaat Van Oranje, Turks Fruit, or even De Vierde Man, will understand what I am talking about here.
During the audio commentary Anchor Bay had recorded for the DVD release, the difference between Verhoeven and many a Hollywood director becomes obvious in a big hurry. Where other directors will attempt to put a spin on every aspect of their films, or even try to congratulate themselves, Verhoeven is so frank and honest that his commentaries could be used in film-making schools. Unlike Peter Jackson and his vapid writing staff, you won't hear Verhoeven trying to justify his artistic decisions from a position of arrogance. It's not "how do you expect me to do this? do you think you can do better?", but rather "I did this this way because... and I am pleased/disappointed with the results, so I will do it again/try something else next time". If all directors in Hollywood were this brutally honest, American film would be much more palatable nowadays.
I gave Keetje Tippel an eight out of ten. Its realism earns it a ten out of ten for the most part, but there are times when it either goes too far, or lets its ambition exceed its ability enough, to deduct two points. Jan Wolkers, the author of the novel on which Turks Fruit is based, had similar feelings about Turks Fruit, so this is quite easily viewed as a case of a new director faltering a little as he learns his craft. Still, with early pieces like Keetje Tippel and Turks Fruit, it is not a surprise that Verhoeven would go on to such masterpieces as Total Recall or RoboCop. The DVD is well worth the Amazon asking price.
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