Netherlands has built reputation of the Europe's most tolerant and permissive country. This reputation found away to reflect itself on Dutch cinema or, to be more precise, Dutch' society's high tolerance of films and film-makers which would be deemed transgressive anywhere else. Probably the best example can in film which proved to be commercially most successful Dutch film of all times and later became honoured by Dutch postage stamp. However, outside Netherlands' borders the fate Turkish Delight, 1973 drama directed by Paul Verhoeven, was quite different. Despite being recognised as film good enough for 1974 Foreign Language Oscar nomination, in USA it was branded with "X" censorship rating by MPAA, while Cannes Film Festival refused to show it because it was deemed "pornographic".
The film, based on the eponymous best-selling novel by Jan Wolkers, begins with a series vignettes featuring the protagonist, young sculptor Eric Vonk (played by Rutger Hauer). He seduces various women and has sex with them, but his romantic conquests do little to fill the emptiness he feels inside. The flashback brings plot two years earlier and begins the explain the source of such emptiness. Eric one day on the road hitches a ride by Olga Stapels (played by Monique van de Ven), shopkeeper's daughter. Two of them instantly feel irresistible attraction to each other and begin relationship that would be so passionate and so strong that even Olga's bourgeoisie parents would ultimately reconcile with their daughter's bohemian artist boyfriend. Eric and Olga ultimately marry each other, but their idyll begins to shatter due to Olga's inexplicably eccentric behaviour that would culminate with her leaving Eric for American businessman. Upon her equally unexpected return, Eric decides to start relationship again, but this new idyll is crushed by devastating news.
It could be argued that Turkish Delight is a product of its times, being made when the ground was still shaking following great social turmoil of 1960s. Two young protagonists have enthusiastically embraced world view and attitudes of their generation. In the film they never fail for any opportunity to challenge old order, either through irreverence, anti-establishment lifestyle or actions that are contrary not only to sexual morals of the older generations, but also to common sense. An interesting twist to Turkish Delight is in the script that reconciles this iconoclastic world view with the plot more suitable for conventional Hollywood melodrama. That led many contemporary critics to compare it with Love Story, immensely popular Hollywood film made three years which is now, unlike Turkish Delight, mostly forgotten.
Reason why Turkish Delight is so effective almost half a century later could be found in very fortunate collection of talents gathered in it. The most important is Paul Verhoeven who, as director, showed incredible skill in shocking the audience, not only through explicit sexual content or male frontal nudity, but also through naturalistic use of various bodily fluids that would remain taboo in Hollywood until late 1990s gross-out comedies. His cinematographer Jan De Bont, who would later, just like Verhoeven, continue successful career in Hollywood, contributes to the film by adding realism through the use of natural lighting and constantly moving camera. Great asset is Rutger Hauer, who, in his prime, plays character who can evoke sympathies despite some actions that can be, especially at these times, viewed as reprehensible. Impressive performance is also given by Monique van de Ven in her very first film role, in which she skilfully leads her character between irreverence and pathos, also adding to the film's realism with her "girl next door" looks.
After watching this film, it is quite understandable why those talents (with possible exception of van de Ven) made such successful careers in international cinema. Some viewers, on the other hand, might not like the film's irreverent and over-naturalistic style, and many might not like some of the content which is as shocking today as it was half a century ago. On the other hand, those viewers who are more tolerant and open-minded will probably appreciate Turkish Delight.
RATING: 7/10 (++)
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