Our staunchly domestic Judge David Packard accidentially found himself face to face with a (gasp!) foreign film.
"You can work hard for years to make them love you, but you might as well make sure they're afraid of you."—Stan Meijer
Allow me to preface my review for Godforsaken (or Van God Los! as it is titled in its native language) by stating that my receipt of this DVD was solely due to a blunder on my part: I thought I had requested that recently-released film about a young couple cloning their dead son, starring Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, and Robert De Niro. Imagine the forehead slap I gave myself upon receiving this Dutch crime drama and not Godsend. Not only did I request the wrong film, but the film I received was a foreign film, and I'm not one who typically indulges in foreign fare. Still, an objective viewing of the film was in order. With a bit of a sigh, I fired up my DVD player, reclined in my easy chair, and let the film unfurl before me.
Surprise, Dave: Godforsaken is a powerful, heart-wrenching film with outstanding performances.
Godforsaken, part of TLA Releasing's "International Film Festival" series, is based on the true story of the "Venlo gang," a group of young criminals who terrorized the Dutch South in the 1990s. Stan Meijer (Egbert Jan Weeber), a seventeen year old who provides voice-over narration throughout the film, meets up with Maikel Verheije (Tygo Gernandt), a hot-blooded young hood who quickly becomes Stan's "mentor." It's no surprise that Maikel becomes the father figure in Stan's life, as we learn through flashback that Stan's biological didn't bother and his affluent, well-known dentist stepfather is more interested in his relationship with Stan's often-clueless mother.
In a town small enough where everyone knows, or knows of, everyone else, Maikel is not a welcomed individual. It's for this reason that Stan poses as the boyfriend of the stunningly-beautiful Anna (Angela Schijf) so that he can lure her away from her overprotective parents and into the arms of Maikel, who thinks nothing of giving Anna a good rogering in the back seat of his car while Stan patiently waits. I must add that the first time we see the young lovers hot and heavy in Maikel's ride, it's to the pounding, catchy tune featured in the Six Flags amusement park commercials with the crazy dancing old guy. I can't tell you how disturbing it was to watch Maikel and Anna going at it when all I could picture was that damned dancing codger.
Getting back to the plot, we soon meet Sef (Mads Wittermans), Maikel's Mohawked and drug-addled childhood friend, and Sef's kid brother, Yuri (Deryl van Mieghem). Sef tells his friend that Johan Schreurs (Johnny Lion), a local hemp grower, has a stash of cash hidden at his establishment. Stan is wary of Sef's "tip," but Maikel decides it's time for the group to step up to bigger and better things. As Anna waits unknowingly in the car, Maikel and Stan overpower Johan. Things go awry, the plan unravels, and robbery turns to murder.
News of the murder quickly spreads, and a shocked Anna confronts Stan, who admits to their involvement but insists it was an accident. The news also reaches Osman (Brader Torun), a local Turk heavy who owns "a coffee shop, gym, two restaurants, and control of three-quarters of the local hash production." Osman also happens to be Johan's boss, and he's none too happy at the demise of his employee. Osman learns the truth behind Johan's untimely departure and begins assigning jobs to Maikel and Stan. Said jobs include snuffing folks who've apparently pissed on Osman's cornflakes at one time or another. What follows is a mixture of gorilla suits, romance, a throat slitting, a shooting, and multiple stabbings before the credits finally roll on this happy little picture.
As I mentioned earlier, this film totally surprised me. It wasn't that I felt a foreign land (or a first-time director named Pieter Kuijpers) couldn't produce a great film; I was just raised on domestic stuff. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I know that the end result of my viewing experience was totally unexpected.
First of all, it's a good story. It's not a pleasant story, mind you, but it's a good one nevertheless. I found myself quickly drawn into Maikel's world and could understand why Stan and Anna found it so enticing. I like a good "downer" film (Requiem for a Dream quickly springs to mind), and Godforsaken certainly fits the bill: the characters spiral into violence and hopelessness as their world spins out of control. Kudos must be given to the amazing performances by Egbert Jan Weeber (Stan) and Tygo Gernandt (Maikel), but Angela Schijf (Anna) is the real standout here. Her transformation from the randy, glowing Anna at the film's beginning to the lost, anguished girl by film's end is both spectacular and heart-breaking. I was also surprised that a film this well-directed was by a first-timer. Kuijpers directs this material with confidence. The cinematography is solid as well, giving life to the coarse underbelly of the small Dutch town.
From an audio standpoint, the lone offering is a vibrant Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix in the original Dutch language (with easy-to-read English subtitles). The video is not as crisp, with debris and grain evident throughout; in the end, this actually works in the film's favor because it gives the material an appropriately gritty feel. Although there's no director commentary to clarify one way or the other, I suspect that the video presentation may be an artistic decision, especially because the grain is cranked up noticeably during flashback sequences between Stan and his biological father.
There are no extras on the disc aside from some trailers of other TRA Releasing fare.
Viewers should also note that, while the film may be unrated, it's definitely R-rated fare. Keep the youngsters away from this one.
In the end, this is one of the better films I've had the pleasure of
viewing. If you're a newbie to the world of foreign film, as I am, this is a
great place to start. It's no surprise this film won Best Director, Best Actor,
and Best Screenplay at the 2003 Netherlands Film Festival. With an engaging
story that pulls you into its dark world, excellent performances, and solid
direction, the court hereby finds Godforsaken not guilty.
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Studio: TLA Releasing
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