Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Last Days of Emma Blank (De Laatste Dagen Van Emma Blank)

Eat Up!

Anyone who has taken care of the aged or the sick, not necessarily during the end of their days, will probably attest to some difficult, testy situations faced from time to time, especially with demands made, reasonable or otherwise, that you'd try to fulfill, rationalized by innate, good natured intentions to try and make it as pleasing and comfortable as possible for the one needing care. But what if you get taken for granted, and worst, being ordered around like a slave to deliver goods and services on the forgetful whims of the sick?

This is one extremely dark comedy that plays on that notion of wanting to please, but only so because of the expected reward that should come at the end, especially if it involves the likelihood of given a larger chunk of some inheritance. Emma Blank (Marlies Heuer) is dying soon, and the household of her chief butler Heneveld (Gene Bervoets), the maid Gonnie (Eva van de Wijdeven), cook Bella (Annet Malherbe), handyman Meier (Gijs Naber) and even the family dog Theo (Alex van Warmerdam! Yes! The writer-director himself!) all do their best to cater to the flip-flopping whims of their mistress of the house. It is a little bit artificial in their hugely dysfunctional setup, but you haven't known dysfunctional yet especially once the story wears on, and the relationships with one another get more defined.

You'd soon realize all is not normal, especially when you have a human, at first whom can be thought to be mentally challenged, behaving exactly like how a dog would. It seemed that Emma Blank has this hold on everyone else, and with every single instruction being obeyed to a tee, with no questions asked. An example will be like how Heneveld got ordered to have a moustache. Overnight. And to have one that is to Emma's liking so that it'll fit in with his position in the house.

There's plenty of playacting here since the family isn't that ostentatiously rich to afford that many servants to wait on Emma hand and feet. And what the fun is in the film, is when these facade get systematically pulled back to reveal the character's true position in the household, and their real family ties, which in summary, can deal with things like potential incest, a sexual predator in the waiting, a fake steady relationship, mutual advantages gained from keeping up the pretenses, and even an extramarital affair all thrown into a heady mix. Keep your ears peeled of course as these are sometimes mentioned in passing, which can disorientated you at first, but the payload's all the more worthwhile when the inevitable happens, and these dynamics all rear their head in full glory.

And this cannot be done without the excellent acting chops of all the cast members, who in essence are taking on dual roles as who their characters are, and the make believe roles that their characters play. Marlies Heuer is frustratingly good as the overpowering matriarch barking orders with conviction and sarcasm, never slow in laying the blame on anyone who dare cross her moody path. And who would have thought that the writer-director will get into self-deprecating mode by playing a dog for the most parts. Comes with a catchy theme tune that will become a earworm.

If you're keen to catch this Dutch film, you'd got to do so soon as it's into its last screening leg at the Picturehouse, before Thailand's Uncle Boonmee pays a visit from this coming Thursday.

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