Director: Paula van der Oest | 100 minutes | comedy, romance | Actors: Monic Hendrickx, Anneke Blok, Sylvia Poorta, Jacob Derwig, Halina Reijn, Theu Boermans, Jaap Spijkers, Annet Nieuwenhuyzen, Pieter Embrechts
Dutch film is a tricky business and Dutch comedy even more so. The Dutch film is still trying to compensate for that bad reputation for mediocrity with an abundance of sex scenes. Sometimes it is forgotten that our small country has also produced very good films, such as ‘De Noorderlingen’ (1992, Alex van Warmerdam), ‘Cloaca’ (2003, Willem van de Sande Bakhuyzen) and ‘Van God Los’ (2003, Pieter Kuijpers). Then you are also talking about the top of directors. Whether Paula van der Oest can ever be counted among them is quite doubtful.
‘Zus & Zo’, a Dutch film by Paula van der Oest, won the Golden Calf for Best Actor in 2002. Well, Jacob Derwig in that film plays a gay boy in the wrong body, the kind of problematic role that – if performed reasonably – is often rewarded with a prize here or there. However, Nino (Jacob Derwig) is not so clearly present in ‘Zus & Zo’, while it is largely about him. After all, he is getting married to Bo (Halina Reijn), which threatens his sisters to miss out on the legacy of the family hotel. Those three sisters – Sonja (Monic Hendrickx), Wanda (Anneke Blok) and Michelle (Sylvia Poorta) all have their own problems. Wanda, the anti-bourgeois not too talented artist, has an affair with Sonja’s husband, Michelle takes everyone who asks for it into her house and thereby drives her husband Jan (Jaap Spijkers) madness and Sonja (Monic Hendrickx) tries to discover herself while writing. In the meantime, Sonja’s husband Hugo (Theu Boermans) has pain when urinating, where GP Jan tries to support him, Bo writes for art magazines and Nino prefers to go back to his ex-boyfriend Felix.
It is a bustle of storylines and human problems. For a movie whose tagline is ‘Your life, only funnier!’ there are a lot of problem themes that can hardly find their place. It is not exactly an average life and there is not much to laugh about. Both the battle for the hotel (is it the sisters for the money or about the memories?) And the sex operation as a ‘solution’ to Nino’s problems (does TV chef Felix really want to be seen with a transsexual?) Are not sufficiently motivated. The camerawork is of a very variable level and not enough attention has been paid to the soundtrack. The acting is not optimal either, it seems more suitable for stage than for the silver screen, which is irritating. Halina Reijn, Monic Hendrickx and Jaap Spijkers never do really bad, but have certainly performed better at times. Sylvia Poorta is downright annoying as Michelle and Theu Boermans is completely wrong as Hugo. That this Philip Freriks lookalike (without the clumsy charm of Freriks) is seen by the sisters as an irresistible decorator is not exactly credible.
The many storylines in ‘Zus & Zo’ keep the pace, but the humor only really comes into play when the men are at home alone and the women are in Portugal. The scene in which Jan and Hugo talk to Nino, dressed as a woman, produces a very beautiful shot (rare in the film), touching and amusing. But otherwise it is mainly a lot of nagging and little wool. If this is the best that Paula van der Oest has to offer, then she does not make a valuable contribution to Dutch cinema.