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Alex van Warmerdam
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Edgar is a waiter in a mediocre restaurant, where clients and even his mistress prove abusive, while his sick wife and criminal neighbors are no better. How bad it gets is a matter of discussion between Edgar, script-writer Herman, his meddling girl-friend Suzie and various other characters, who regularly complain to Herman, who thus repeatedly changes the script... yet never to everyone's satisfaction, least of all his own. Written by
WAITER (Alex van Warmerdam - Netherlands/Belgium 2006).
Alex van Warmerdam is the writer, director and star in this original and wickedly funny black comedy, that really made me laugh with tears. The opening film at the Dutch Film Festival 2006 in Utrecht last week and almost unanimously greeted as some kind of dark comic masterpiece. Interesting trailers suggested a very inventive script as well and with a cast consisting of some of my favorite actors, Mark Rietman in particular, I went to see this with towering expectations. Well, I wasn't disappointed. It's hard to compare van Warmerdam with any other filmmaker in contemporary Dutch cinema, but this certainly was the funniest Dutch film I've seen in years.
Fifty year old Edgar (Alex van Warmerdam) is a sad-sack ober (a waiter) in a type of spacious unassuming restaurant that doesn't seem to exist anymore since the early eighties. He divides his time between needy mistress Victoria (Ariane Schluter) and his bed-ridden wife (Silvia Poorta). Since he has been a waiter for 25 years, he has lost interest in his work in every imaginable way. His life as a waiter consists of being assaulted by customers, either arrogant businessmen, or his mistress, who also frequents the restaurant on a regular basis and even demands his attention when he's working. One evening, when Edgar is given a beating by a bully customer (Pierre Bokma) he suddenly appears at the door of a writer and we find out all the action up until now has been the work of screenwriter Herman (Mark Rietman). Edgar demands Herman writes him a more assertive character and wants a mistress he really cares for. Well, he gets it, but with every new turn Herman writes, Edgar gets deeper into trouble and soon, every character in the story turns up at his doorstep, demanding a better life. Subsequently Edgar's life becomes a bizarre string of occurrences with neighbours who turn out to be professional (Russian?) criminals (who also like to throw their garbage in his backyard), adultery, three-cornered relationships, suicides and murder.
Van Warmerdam gives such a deadpan performance, it makes Jon Heder in NAPOLEON DYNAMITE look like some ferocious method actor. And watch out for Fedja van Huet. He contributes to some laugh-out-loud moments as Victoria's brother, who forces Edgar to give his sister a second chance during a dinner. I never realized he could make me laugh in such a way. A real hoot!
I feel I don't do justice to this film by looking for some arguably comparable and perhaps better known filmmakers, who are true originals in themselves, but how to describe this unique film to many non-Dutch who are not familiar with his style? Charlie Kaufman style meta-fiction meets Aki Kaurismaki, Jarmusch, and (the early) Woody Allen, combined with Van Warmerdam's keen eye for delivering visual comedy, it's hard to imagine anybody else could have pulled it off so well. I think it's his cinematic sensibility in visual comedy what makes van Warmerdam such a unique filmmaker. His films - and this one is no exception - are so truly his own, it's hard to imagine he's been influenced by anyone at all.
Just a touch short from hitting the bulls-eye completely, because it could have held back a little on the comedy element at times, it seems to be straining for effect in some scenes. About halfway the film takes a somewhat sharp left-turn towards slapstick. When the audience was still recovering from the last laugh, some "real dramatic" scenes played out, which tended to lose its impact because of the machine gun-paced bombardment of comic scenes before and after these scenes. When Edgar decides to buy a bow and arrow in some strange shop (with Rene Groothof dressed up as a woman!) it becomes a bit too much. Sure, it's very funny, but didn't seem to belong in this film.
But what a treat this was, with stunning photography and beautiful locations. I'm sure this is a film that audiences in other countries should enjoy as well. The film will probably be released in Canada (was already shown at the Toronto Filmfestival) and in the U.S. under the title WAITER.
Camera Obscura --- 9/10
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