Anchor Bay // 1973 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // May 30th, 2001
Paul Verhoeven, der Regisseur von Basic Instinct, bricht mit allen Tabus in dieser provozierenden, erotischen Lovestory. Nominiert für den Oscar!
Paul Verhoeven is probably best known to North American audiences for his extravagant, outrageous action films. His Hollywood work has often been brutally, shockingly violent and laced with gratuitous nudity and graphic sexual imagery. His stateside resume includes Total Recall, Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Basic Instinct. Characters in a Verhoeven film are rarely fully realized individuals; instead, he has a tendency to use them as archetypes or ciphers representing generalized groups or attitudes. He then uses their defining characteristics or attitudes as building blocks for whatever statement he is trying to make. The characters he uses to tell his stories are often alienated and alienating, somewhat grotesque personalities that seem a step removed from the rest of humanity. Through these characters Verhoeven often uses his movies to challenge societal conventions and attitudes.
Turkish Delight is an altogether different film from Verhoeven's flashy action blockbusters. However, it shows the origins of his filmmaking and the beginnings of his unique narrative style and critical voice. In fact, these elements probably come through more clearly in Turkish Delight than in any of his high-budget Hollywood work, as they are not smothered in glitzy special effects or action set pieces.
On its initial release in 1973, Turkish Delight won extensive critical acclaim, and became the most popular film in Dutch history. It was nominated for the best foreign film Oscar for 1973. In 1999 the Netherlands Film Festival awarded it a Golden Calf trophy, proclaiming it the best Dutch film of the century. This explicit tale of romance and lust is now available on DVD from Anchor Bay as a part of their "Paul Verhoeven Collection."
When we first meet Erik Vonk (Rutger Hauer -- Blade Runner, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wanted: Dead or Alive), he is a mental and physical wreck. We see him lying naked, surrounded by filth and refuse that fills his warehouse apartment/art studio. He is emotionally dead. He lies awake, fantasizing incredible acts of violence against a young woman and her boyfriend. Suddenly he rouses himself from his torpor, cleans up the apartment and himself, and hits the streets, looking for sexual conquests. He brings a series of women to his bed, a kaleidoscope of bodies and shapes and desires, each one different from the last but all the same to him. He returns to the apartment in the evening with yet another conquest, but stops in his tracks when he sees a female form in the darkness of his apartment. For a moment she seems real, but when he turns on the light it is only one of his statues. He is quite shaken, and bids his latest date goodnight immediately.
We are then transported back two years. We see Erik as an iconoclastic sculptor, hitchhiking his way to Amsterdam when he meets Olga (Monique Van de Ven), a beautiful young redhead who gives him a ride. The two are instantly drawn together. Their tempestuous and ultimately tragic relationship forms the rest of the narrative, but their story is really only a framework for Verhoeven to further explore Erik's character. Ultimately Turkish Delight is a study in how Erik deals with love, intimacy, and loss.
Turkish Delight is really Erik Vonk's story, and Rutger Hauer's performance is what fuels the film. Erik is angry, nihilistic, consciously distant from society and its conventions. At his core he is a selfish, childish person who never grew up, and uses his status as an artist as a shield against norms and rules of conduct. He is not so much a free spirit as an angry one. Hauer understands this, and captures Erik's arrogant disaffection perfectly. There are times when Hauer shows a flash of softheartedness, of a childlike vulnerability, but quickly hides it, covering it up with petty acts of callous arrogance. In simple terms, he seems like a world-class jerk, but only wishes that he were. Erik's other defining characteristic is his inability to distinguish between love and sex. It is only through sex that he is able to relate to women, including Olga. This weakness, combined with a lack of self-control, leads to his most self-destructive and appalling acts in the film. Over the course of the film Hauer shows us a remarkable process of maturation in Erik's character, growth that stems from his relationship with Olga.
This film was the screen debut for both Hauer and costar Monique Van de Ven. Van de Ven was only nineteen years old at the time. As Olga she is free-spirited and naïve, with a beguiling combination of innocence and sensuality. Olga undergoes an amazing transformation over the course of the film, and Van de Ven is outstanding in her ability to capture it from beginning to end.
In trying to present a realistic, unsentimental portrait of these two lovers, Verhoeven never shies away from the ugly details of life. He never lets the audience off the hook for a second, preferring to show explicitly what many filmmakers would only suggest. This extends to the details of Erik's sex life, Olga's father's terminal illness, and even to mundane daily activities like using the toilet. He brings us uncomfortably close to his characters, showing us things about them that we would prefer not to know about our closest friends. He and cinematographer Jan De Bont chose to shoot using handheld cameras and very little artificial lighting, which adds to an overall feeling of hyper-realism.
Verhoeven also uses a lot of visual and emotional symbolism to get his point across. Some of his symbolism is very ham-handed and obvious, such as a recurring use of flowers as well as worms and maggots to foreshadow death and decay. Other times he is more nuanced, including the hints that show us that Erik is growing up as a person, little things like switching from riding his bicycle everywhere to driving a car, cleaning his apartment of the detritus of his life with Olga, and so forth. Even more interesting is that for all the sex in the movie, we only see his relationship with Olga physically consummated twice -- once before they really know each other, and once after their relationship is over. There is dialogue that hints at more sexual activity, but the only times we see them together on screen their activities are always interrupted by the doorbell or the phone or Erik's churlish behavior. As sex is the only way he has that he can relate to her, it seems this is a metaphor for the ultimate failure of their relationship.
Anchor Bay has brought us this intriguing film in an anamorphic transfer. It is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Picture quality is good overall, with few digital flaws. The picture is often dark and grainy, shadow detail is quite murky and poor, and the colors seem slightly faded most of the time. However, given the choices Verhoeven and De Bont made in cinematography, this is clearly the fault of the original source material, not the digital transfer process.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital Mono. It is an adequate mix, free of hiss and distortion. Dialogue, ambient sounds, and music are all clearly heard without interference.
Anchor Bay has provided us with some solid extra content for this DVD release. There is a theatrical trailer, overlong and basically a highlight reel of all the nude scenes in the film. There is a still gallery of 31 photographs, again many of them highlighting nude scenes from the movie. There are talent bios featuring Hauer, Van de Ven, and Verhoeven. These are quite lengthy and detailed and are a welcome addition to this DVD. Finally, we have a commentary track featuring Paul Verhoeven himself. He mostly speaks specifically about each scene, telling us what is on the screen rather than giving us any new information. However, he gives some good background information about the movie, including how casting decisions were made and his previous work with Hauer. He also gives some insight into his directorial style, and his ability to talk actors into doing things for him that prove detrimental to their careers later on; the example he gives is the case of Elizabeth Berkeley in Showgirls. He also talks about the symbolism in the film, as well as some of the more shocking visual images that he is quite proud of. Overall, he comes across on the commentary track as slightly unpleasant, a man who is self-assured to the point of arrogance. [See note at end of review]
One minor point: Anchor Bay has included English subtitles on this disc. However, since the dialogue is all in Dutch, they had little choice. Now, if they could just start putting subtitles on their English-language releases...
While the characters are interesting and engaging in their ugliness, the story itself is actually pretty formulaic and trite. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy meets girl again, dramatic revelation that draws them back together, tragic end. After all the work that went into creating these unconventional, self-centered characters, the almost saccharine ending to the film seems a major betrayal of everything that has gone before.
On the other hand, some of the film's most unconventional moments don't work that well either. Verhoeven wanted to show what real life was like for these characters, and to show it unblinkingly. There is a lot of old-fashioned gross-out material in the film, images that are calculated to shock and disturb. I don't mind such things if they serve a purpose, but they often seem to have been included on a whim, just to satisfy Verhoeven's personal caprice. He seems at times like a Dutch version of John Waters, the main difference being Verhoeven's level of self-importance. Things that Waters might put in a movie with a playful wink or a sly smile, Verhoeven puts in because he thinks he is making a statement. I'm afraid I can't be more specific in this forum, but there are two scenes involving dogs, and another involving beets that come to mind. Those who have seen the film will understand.
Turkish Delight is not for everyone. There is a lot of graphic sexual content, including full frontal nudity of Hauer and several women. There are disturbing images that some will find gratuitous, and others will find visceral and real. I can't tell you if I liked it or not; I truly can't decide. Either the movie is an artistic masterpiece, or it is trashy exploitation. Maybe it is a little of both. In either case, I found it intriguing, but anyone choosing to purchase or rent it should go in with their eyes open and understand what to expect. The more casual viewer might want to think twice before exploring Turkish Delight.
The jury is still out on Turkish Delight. As we have been unable to reach a verdict, the movie and Paul Verhoeven are free to go -- for now. Anchor Bay is once again fully acquitted and released with the thanks of the court.
We stand adjourned.
[Editor's Note: We received a follow-up email regarding this review from Jim Allan, the sound editor on this and other Anchor Bay commentary tracks. He tells us that the commentary had to be cleaned up to compensate for Verhoeven's less than perfect use of the English language, and that the tone of his commentary is his fault, not Verhoeven's. For his complete letter, please see our November 9th update.]
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Dutch)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Paul Verhoeven Commentary
* Theatrical Trailers
* Stills Gallery
* Talent Bios