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Shawkat Amin Korki
"Kort Amerikaans" means literally "short American" and refers to a short shaved haircut. The movie is an adaptation of a novel by the Dutch writer Jan Wolkers, who also was the literary source of the Paul Verhoeven classic "Turkish delight" (that plunged both Paul Verhoeven and actor Rutger Hauer into national and later on international fame!). Jan Wolkers was notorious for the frank and provocative use of sex in his novels, but he is also regarded as an important literary writer, who's favorite themes (apart from sex) were death, and religious and middle-class bigotry. Wolkers also was a renowned painter and sculptor, and the main characters in his novels are often images of himself: the misunderstood young artist who collides with conservative morals and who desperately seeks a female soul-(and sex-)mate. All these ingredients are present in this movie-adaptation.
I have to admit that I did not read the book, but this gives me the opportunity to judge the movie by its own merits. Note that this movie is now 30 years old: this shows especially in the style of acting, which is at times a bit declamatory. Furthermore there is the effect of this typical Dutch seventies cinematographic "Zeitgeist", when the directors seemed to compete in who dared to show the most nudity, sex and other provocative images. "Functional" was the key-apology in those days, and they created national box-office hits with it, but in retrospect it now all seems in many instances a bit childish, superfluous and in fact the opposite of "functional". Anyway, this movie from 1979 gives you what you could expect in those days: a lot of sex and of casual male and female nudity. Surely you cannot make a movie of a Jan Wolkers novel without showing some skin and sex, but by nowadays standards you would have liked it all to be handled with a little more subtlety and style.
Apart form these time-linked reservations, this is a surprisingly good movie, with an involving story, a fast pace, beautiful photography (the old streets of Leiden during the last months of the German occupation of world war II), a fine musical score and some good acting, especially by protagonist Derek de Lint. He was already 29 years old at that time, but is totally convincing as the young wannabe artist Erik who struggles with himself, his middle class family, his roaring hormones and the stifling circumstances of war and occupation. Eric has to hide from the Germans so as to avoid deportation to Germany as a worker, and tries to earn a living as a lampshade-painter, while in his spare time he looks for a chance to improve his more artistic painting-ambitions, applying for painting-sessions in the old Academy-building. His character is not sympathetic, he's clearly an opportunist, misleading his naive girlfriend to get sex with her (to the point of abusing her against her will) and befriending for his own purposes the proprietor of the academy who is actually a leading NSB-man, i.e. in WWII-Holland a Germans-follower and a traitor. But we also get glimpses of the child underneath, in the relation with his mother and his friendship with an older artist-amateur who turns out to be a weird suicidal neurotic, and his coping with the death of his hero-brother who gets killed in the resistance.
De Lint in this movie may not have the brutal physique of a young Rutger Hauer, but he does have a fine charisma of his own, with a beautiful angelic face and a wild bunch of long curly hair, and with a vigorous sort of charm that makes it totally understandable that the girls in the movie all go for him. He plays the part of the angry young man very well: he's rough, harsh and impatient with everyone, he shouts and scolds, he takes whatever is offered to him for granted and never seems to give anything back. But De Lint also reveals the softer sides of Erik in some of the more introspective moments in the movie: a touching scene where Erik ponders over the coffin of his dead brother; the scene where he comforts his mother while she frets over her eldest son, not seeing how this hurts her youngest because he feels neglected; and especially the noteworthy and crucial scenes with the plaster female torso. It's supposed to be an artist's model, but in Erik's sex-flushed mind it's the ideal substitute for his prudish girlfriend, and soon he makes love to the statue whenever he can, even takes it to bed with him. De Lint succeeds in making this somewhat preposterous premise totally believable, with a very serious and sensual approach, that's helped even more by the beautiful lightning and photography. And his horror and ensuing reaction when the torso is deliberately smashed to pieces by another girlfriend who feels scorned and in her anger tells him the dead spot truth ("you're just afraid of real living people!!") is very gripping.
As I said, I didn't read the book and the movie left me somehow puzzled as to the meaning of the title. During the movie there's some referring to a traumatic experience as a child: his hair had to be cut and shaved "short American", and this exposed a scar on his temple where in his infancy a hot kettle fell on his head due to the neglect of his parents (or at least he seems to think that). But it's given in the movie hardly more time than it took me to write this, and this left me with the feeling that I was deprived of some very important clue or metaphor. During the opening-credits there's this beautiful image of a young kid whose head gets shaved while he cries his heart out, so you would expect that it's supposed impact on Erik's later life should have been the heart of the story and of this movie. I guess I'll still have to read the book anyway!
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