22 November 2020

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

It is the last day of Cinefest, the 17th International Festival of German Film-Heritage. A more recent Dutch-German coproduction is Zwartboek/Black Book (2006), directed by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (1938). Verhoeven (not to be mixed up with the German director of the same name who was active in the 1930s) is the most famous, provocative, and challenging Dutch film director. He worked in the Netherlands, Hollywood, and France, and his films include box-office hits like the Oscar-nominated Turks Fruit/Turkish Delight (1973), Soldaat van Oranje/Soldier of Orange (1977), Basic Instinct (1988), Zwartboek/Black Book (2006) and Elle (2016). He also became known for his four violent, yet intelligent, Science-Fiction films RoboCop (1987), Total Recall (1990), Starship Troopers (1997), and Hollow Man (2000). Verhoeven often tackles controversial topics that have no easy resolution and his work has a strong visual style with heavy use of special effects.

Paul Verhoeven: Beelden van Zwartboek
Dutch promotion card by Filmmuseum for the exhibition 'Beelden van Zwartboek' (Images of Black Book). Photo: Thom Hoffman. Paul Verhoeven at the set of Zwartboek/Black Book (2006).

Carice van Houten and Sebastian Koch in Zwartboek (2006)
Belgian promotion card by Cinémanie. Photo: Carice van Houten and Sebastian Koch in Zwartboek/Black Book (Paul Verhoeven, 2006).

Rutger Hauer in Floris (1969)
Dutch postcard by N.A.A., 2000. Photo: Rutger Hauer in Floris (Paul Verhoeven, 1969).

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990)
Vintage postcard by Box Office, no. BOPC 3063. Photo: Carolco International NV. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990).

Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992)
Vintage postcard, no. FA 328. Photo: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992).

Jeanne Tripplehorn, Michael Douglas, Paul Verhoeven, Sharon Stone,  at the Premiere of Basic Instinct in Cannes
Big photo, 1993. Jeanne Tripplehorn, Michael Douglas, Paul Verhoeven, and Sharon Stone at the Premiere of Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992) in Cannes.

The trauma of war


Paul Verhoeven was born in 1938 in the Netherlands. He was the son of a school teacher, Wim Verhoeven, and a hat maker, Nel van Schaardenburg.

In 1943 the family moved to The Hague, and Paul lived through the trauma of the war. The Verhoeven house was near a German military base with V1 and V2-rocket launchers, which was repeatedly bombed by Allied forces. Their neighbours' house was hit and Verhoeven's parents were almost killed when bombs fell on a street crossing.

Following his primary and high school education, he was accepted at the prestigious University of Leiden. He graduated with a degree in math and physics. While at the university he became interested in filmmaking and directed some short films in the early 1960s. He entered the Royal Netherlands Navy, where he began his film career by making a short documentary for the Navy, Het Korps Mariniers/The Marine Corps (1965). The stunning result was awarded the Silver Sun Award, a French award for military films.

Verhoeven took his skills to Dutch television. First, he made a documentary about Anton Mussert, leader of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB), named Mussert (1968). Then he directed the 12-episode Dutch TV series, Floris (1969), about a medieval knight. The series was phenomenally successful and established Verhoeven's career in the Netherlands. The concept of Floris was inspired by foreign series like Ivanhoe and Thierry La Fronde. The adventure series featured actor Rutger Hauer, and the script was written by Gerard Soeteman. Verhoeven would later frequently work with both of them on his Dutch films.

Verhoeven's first feature was the comedy Wat zien ik/Business is Business (1971) about two Amsterdam prostitutes who have to choose between love and work. It quickly became the fourth highest-grossing Dutch film. His second film, Turks fruit/Turkish Delight (1973), about the passionate love story of an artist and a young liberal girl from a conservative background, was an even bigger hit and gained him great popularity in the Netherlands. In 1999, Turkish Delight received the award for Best Dutch Film of the Century at the Netherlands Film Festival.

The film starred the debuting Monique van de Ven and Rutger Hauer. They re-teamed with Verhoeven for Keetje Tippel/Cathy Tippel (1975). His Dutch films, especially Soldaat van Oranje/Soldier of Orange (1977), starring Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbé, and the horror film De vierde man/The Fourth Man (1983), starring Jeroen Krabbé and Renée Soutendijk, received international recognition.

In between Verhoeven made the film Spetters (1980) with Renée Soutendijk and Rutger Hauer. The story is sometimes compared to Saturday Night Fever, but the film has more explicit violence and sexuality. Verhoeven co-scripted Soldaat van Oranje/Soldier of Orange (1977) and later also Flesh+Blood (1985).

Rutger Hauer in Floris (1969)
Dutch collectors card by Monty, no. 1, 1970. Photo: Gerard Soeteman. Rutger Hauer in the TV series Floris (Paul Verhoeven, 1969).

Rutger Hauer in Floris (1969)
Dutch collectors card by Monty, no. 28, 1970. Photo: Gerard Soeteman. Rutger Hauer in the TV series Floris (Paul Verhoeven, 1969).

Monique van de Ven
Dutch postcard by Art Unlimited, Amsterdam, no. B 1948, 1994. Photo: Paul Huf, 1976. Monique van de Ven (1952) is a Dutch actress and director. With her film debut in Paul Verhoeven's Turks fruit/Turkish Delight (1973), she was an international sensation.

Jeroen Krabbé in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch photo: Jeroen Krabbé in De Vierde Man/The Fourth man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).

Jeroen Krabbé and Renee Soutendijk in De vierde man (1983)
Dutch photo: Jeroen Krabbé and Renee Soutendijk in De Vierde Man/The Fourth man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983).


Only recording the violence of society


In 1985, Paul Verhoeven moved to the US. He had already directed an episode of the HBO TV series The Hitchhiker (1983). His first American film was the medieval epic Flesh+Blood (1985), which starred Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh. He had a falling out with Hauer on the set and it would become the last film they made together.

His next film RoboCop (1987) and, especially, Total Recall (1990) were blockbusters. Total Recall starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone. It earned two Oscar nominations and received the Academy Award for its dazzling special effects. Sometimes accused of portraying excessive violence in his films, Verhoeven replies that he is only recording the violence of society.

His next film, the intense and provocative thriller Basic Instinct (1992) became the ninth-highest-grossing film of the year. It starred Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone. The film's most notorious scene shows Stone's character in a police interrogation, where she uncrosses her legs, briefly revealing her vulva.

In 1995, Verhoeven became the first nominee ever to actually show up at the Razzie Awards. He personally accepted the 'Worst Director' and 'Worst Picture' awards for Showgirls (1995). Afterward, the film enjoyed success on the home video market, generating more than $100 million from video rentals.

Several of his Dutch and American films have been photographed by Jost Vacano, including the hit cult film, Starship Troopers (1997), starring Casper Van Dien. It was followed by Hollow man (2000), Verhoeven's variation on the themes of HG Wells's 'The Invisible Man'. Both films received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects.

In 2006, Verhoeven reappeared with his Dutch film Zwartboek/Black Book about underground resistance activities in the Netherlands during the Second World War. The film, co-written by Gerard Soeteman and starring Carice van Houten, became an instant success and was nominated for a Bafta-Award. In 2007, Verhoeven published the book 'Jezus van Nazaret'(Jesus of Nazareth ) which reviews the ideas of Jesus of Nazareth and the alleged corruption of these same ideas over the last 2,000 years.

Nine years later followed the French thriller and comedy of manners Elle (2016), which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Lead actress Isabelle Huppert received an Oscar nomination for her bravura performance as a businesswoman who finds a way to get back at her aggressor after she is violently raped. Next year follows another French film, Benedetta/Blessed Virgin (2021) about a 17th-century nun in Italy who suffers from disturbing religious and erotic visions. It is a biographical film about the life of Benedetta Carlini, which will be portrayed by Elle co-star Virginie Efira.

Paul Verhoeven was knighted in the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2007. Since 1967, he is married to Martine Verhoeven-Tours and they have two daughters, Claudia and Helen.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990)
French postcard by Sonis, no. C. 129. Photo: Carolco International NV. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990).

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990)
French postcard by Sonis, no. C. 130. Photo: Carolco International NV. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990).
Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992)
Spanish postcard by Novograf. Photo: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992).

Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992)
Spanish postcard by Novograf. Photo: Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992).

Isabelle Huppert in Elle (2016)
Austrian promotion card by Gartenbaukino, Wien. Photo: Isabelle Huppert in Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016).

Sources: Geoffrey MacNab (Screen Daily), R.J. Lahey (IMDb), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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