It isn’t as if there is any blight of good films involving the transition from adolescence into young adulthood in the marketplace; but, for my tastes, I find it refreshing as of late to find so many of them coming from the foreign markets. Well, for too long the American teenage experience – I’m not putting it down, as I lived through my very own – has dominated the films about this awkward time in everyone’s life; if nothing else, I find it reassuring to know that our foreign brother and sisters struggle with much of the same emotional highs and lows because it unites us culturally. It brings us closer together. It once more reminds us that we share more in common than we truly differ from one another, and having that seminal ‘common ground’ from which to begin any dialogue is refreshing.
THE DEFLOWERING OF EVA VAN END amps it up another notch. While presenting the struggles of the young, it also explores those of the young-at-heart – the parents, who all too often get overlooked in their development with the family because (let’s face it) their challenges tend to be less inviting, less inspiring, and decidedly less glamorous.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Veit (played with cleverly nuanced awareness and equal detachment by a sparkly Rafael Gariesen) is a German foreign exchange student who comes to live with a Dutch family, all for the purpose of learning better English. Eva (Vivian Dierickx in a breakout performance) is the young girl who serves as his sponsor, and she’s immediately smitten with his charms, looks, and attitude. Much to her confusion, Veit manages to equally affect the various members of her family, accidentally forcing them to tear down the barriers of their ordered existence only to find something much different hiding beneath.
As the title suggests, his DEFLOWERING is all about transition. Yet rather than be an individual experience this one ends up being far more orgiastic in nature. Everyone is affected by Veit, even those truly not vying for his attention. The boys at school want to be just like him, and the girls can’t take their eyes of him. Back at home, father Evert (Ton Kas) recognizes there are souls beyond the homefront who might be needing whatever he can give while mother Etty (a frumpily luminous Jacqueline Blom) discovers a deficiency in her ability to find personal peace. As for the brothers? Erwin (Tomer Pawlicki) suddenly uncovers a repressed homosexuality, and Manuel (Abe Dijkman) finds himself obsessed with attaining ‘trophies’ from all his exploits, carnal or otherwise.
Anne Barnhoorn’s smart script uses Veit as a mirror: he’s held up over each of these various characters, and only under his influence can each of them see what they’re missing – a father without a child to raise, a mother struggling with identity, and so on and so forth. Eva’s shortcomings, however, end up getting scant attention texturally – in spite of having her name in the title! – but that’s largely because her struggle is the easiest identified, even from the outset. In early scenes, she’s shown sitting at the dinner table; life is going on all around her – mom, dad, and the boys are carrying a variety of mixed conversations with one another; and yet no one gives her a second look or listens to what she says. At school, she can only draw the attention of the equally outcast members of pubescent society. She slumps her shoulders; she wears t-shirts adorned with curiously obtuse designs; and she doesn’t even try to fit in any longer. Director Ten Horn stages it all brilliantly, and he captures it with some dazzling camera trickery that’ll no doubt inspire those who marvel in all the details. And, also as the title promises, she gets her deflowering.
What does it get her?
Her changes aren’t nearly as drastic as those of her family, and perhaps that’s precisely the message implied through all of this. Everyone is transformed in some way, big or small, by Veit’s powers over them. Eva’s afforded a universe of personal knowledge – symbolized by the glow-in-the-dark ceiling star that lands on her forehead the moment her German suitor climaxes – while the rest of her blood relations are left to sort through the open baggage of their psychological comeuppances … good or bad. For the most part, they’re good, but when you hear Manuel – now properly named ‘Emanual’ – promise that things will go back to normal once Veit is gone, you’ll know like I did that the order of things has changed.
THE DEFLOWERING OF EVA VAN END (2012) is the feature-length debut from Michiel Ten Horn. The film is produced by Pupkin Film. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by Film Movement as part of its ‘Film of the Month’ Club. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Dutch-spoken language release (with a smattering of German) with English subtitles (there is no English dubbing track, but there’s a significant portion of the picture that is spoken in English). As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds impressive consistently with some smart cinematography thrown in for good measure. If it’s special features you’re interested in, there’s a clever director interview (5 minutes), along with the requisite character/actor biographies, and two additional short films (“Basta” and “Arie”) also from Ten Horn for your entertainment. A nice package, indeed.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Much like anyone’s first deflowering, THE DEFLOWERING OF EVA VAN END ain’t perfect, but it’s still a delightfully dark and wryly comic mix of what happens when the socially imperfect collide head on with the socially perfect. The performances are terrific – in particular, Vivian Dierickx captures the general cluelessness and cultural awkwardness of being still trapped with a young mind in a body starting to change (from impulses as well as family or peer pressures) – and the script, while lacking in depth, makes up for it in a myriad of smaller moments that gives balance to one of the smartest ensembles I’ve seen in quite some time. Be warned: it has a psychologically dark moment that might disturb some viewers (involving a member of the Animal Kingdom), but once the shock wears off it’ll all make more sense.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Film Movement provided me with a DVD copy of THE DEFLOWERING OF EVA VAN END by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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