No. 10 (2021)
Directed by: Alex van Warmerdam | 100 minutes | thriller, comedy | Actors: Tom Dewispelaere, Frieda Barnhard, Hans Kesting, Anniek Pheifer, Pierre Bokma, Dirk Böhling, Mandela Wee Wee, Richard Gonlag, Gene Bervoets, Liz Snoyink, Alexander ElMecky, Kim Karssen, Jan Bijvoet, Tobias Nierop, Stijn Van Opstal, Harriet Stroet, Bert Geurkink, Harpert Michielsen, Vic de Wachter, Aat Ceelen, Marieke Dilles, Geert de Jong, Sem Klarenbeek, Egbert Jan Weeber
Quentin Tarantino once suggested that he should not make more than ten films, because history shows that most directors, including the greats, are past their peak around that number. Tarantino has since arrived there with ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ (2019). A fitting closing piece, isn’t it? But more importantly, Alex van Warmerdam also comes with his tenth film, ‘Nr. 10’. Does Van Warmerdam follow Tarantino’s rule of thumb with this?
Although you wouldn’t say it at the beginning of the film, the lead role in ‘Nr. 10’ for Günter (Tom Dewispelaere). He was found in a German forest at the age of four and grew up in a foster family. Forty years later he lives a fairly average life, perfect for all the drabness around him. Günter has a one-lung daughter, Lizzy (Frieda Barnhard), is a stage actor by trade and has an affair with a married woman. When a complete stranger on a bridge whispers a word in Günter’s ear, it is the start of the search for his origin. A very ordinary day in Van Warmerdam’s universe, but then again not.
With ‘No. 10 ‘Van Warmerdam is throwing a party in his own backyard. The actors, veterans and talented grut, come from every crack on his set. A more gritty ensemble could not be gathered and most of the characters have already been seen in variations in Van Warmerdam’s earlier work. In ‘No. 10’ Pierre Bokma plays the old schlemiel Marius with a bedridden woman. Gene Bervoets as Reichenbach shows up as an imperturbable creep similar to Chirurgh from ‘No Country for Old Men’ (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2007). Hans Kesting grumbles through the script as stage director Karl. Jan Bijvoet is again almost silent and wordless, a mysterious eyesore as in ‘Borgman’. As Lisa, Anniek Pfeifer feels exactly what her director wants, so anything but human warmth, not even during an affair. Finally, ‘No. 10’ a strong newcomer in the guise of Barnhard. She takes on the role of daughter Lizzy, who alternates without winking between a distant or empathetic attitude.
The characters and their environment are in ‘No. 10’ is not quite as dull and dead as that of the Swedish director Roy Andersson (including ‘You, the Living’, 2007), but it makes little difference. Occasionally the actors in ‘Nr. 10’ are automated people. The text from their mouths is interchangeable language in which empty shells of words, such as “almost” and “always”, dominate. Like character Marius, you would develop amnesia from it.
The art direction and locations are also carefully boned. For example, the rehearsal room for Karl’s new play is located in a disused industrial estate. Blue and gray dominate the film, from the underpants to the interior in Günter’s apartment. The film style and tone of ‘No. 10’ sucks the life out of everything. In short, the Netherlands as weak tea. The colorless style does not completely flatten the film, but makes it deeply absurd and sometimes hilarious. It also holds up a mirror to us of what kind of soft our society can be.
In addition, ‘No. 10’ likes to mislead the viewer. Almost every character is spying on or making fun of another, no one is completely telling the truth or lying. The film pretends to be about making a stage performance, but this film is one big theatre. Van Warmerdam plays horse-trading with his own hobbyhorses, from the decor to the characters. After all, you have an expectation with everything, even with a Van Warmerdam. Nevertheless, ‘No. 10’ just take another exit. And hopefully this is all more than comical spielerei, because every now and then it seems that dry ass Van Warmerdam doesn’t take anything seriously at all. Maybe he fears too many emotional states?
In ‘No. 10’ Van Warmerdam visibly taunts his own craft, the game of stories and all kinds of hobbyhorses of the Dutch film and theater world. To make fun of something that is Dutch, he has idiosyncratically elevated it to an art in film and theatre, see also the international appreciation from the Cannes Film Festival for ‘Borgman’ (2013). In addition, ‘No. 10’ is, as it were, an encyclopedia of Van Warmerdam’s unique oeuvre and as an encore he gives the church another knee in the cross. And although the title seems bland, this fits exactly with how the film industry always comes up with a cheap sales trick. If it produces this kind of absurdism from the low countries, then we can only clap our hands.