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Review: Without mercy (2009)

Director: Norbert ter Hall | 112 minutes | comedy | With:

as you have never seen him before, that is the essence of the cinema version of his latest cabaret show ‘Zonder pardon’. An evening-filling program by a cabaret performer on the silver screen, that has never been shown in the Netherlands before, and with that Maassen has had a scoop.

On September 19, 2009, performed at the Oude Luxor Theater in Rotterdam, where ten cameras under the direction of Norbert van Hall captured the show. At that time, Maassen had already toured the entire country for over a year with his sixth theater performance. In just two months, the material was edited and released as a cinema film.

The question, however, is: does a feature of the performance really add something essential to the theater program? The answer to this is: no. It is a completely different experience than when you as a viewer actually sit in the room and it is also very different to see a recording of a show on television (not counting the format). Because the film is the easiest to compare with the latter. And in that respect, the film is nothing more and nothing less than a recording of a theater performance, which means that the entire usefulness of making a feature film is lost.

A visit to the theater, which is admittedly much more expensive than the price of a cinema ticket, is much more of an experience. There is much more intimacy, even in Luxor’s main hall with 900 other visitors, and the interaction is also evident between the performer and the audience. When Maassen shouts “rotten people from Rotterdam”, he is talking to the people in the room, not to the anonymous people sitting in a completely different room. The viewer in the cinema is much more a spectator, perceiving events through a prism, as it were. It is a strange sensation to hear both the theater and the cinema laughing at a joke at the same time.

At the same time, the camera is close to Maassen’s skin and every hair of his stubble can be counted. It is an advantage that the camera does not miss any detail, because every nuance in Maassen’s eyes and every muscle twitch is exposed, which underlines the power of his story. The chosen camera angles and the strong editing also show that the makers have recorded the performance with care and a great sense of timing.

Fifteen months old she is, to the day, Maassen’s daughter, whom he talks about with pride and love and of whom he even shows a photo. The new fatherhood is the thread in the performance and his highly personal struggle with old questions such as: ‘Am I a good parent?’ and ‘what kind of world will my child grow up in?’ With a biting sarcasm, sharp observations and contrary logic, Maassen sometimes gives surprising insights into his worldview and what society looks like. He divides society into two groups, the people who have been processed with a good ejaculation and the “pre-cum people”, which needs no further explanation. The last group consists of the stupid people, the complainers, the dissatisfied. He mainly refers to the potential voters for the Freedom Party. But Maassen’s political jokes are not his strongest trump card, it is precisely in the moments when he is at his strongest in the new things he learns, the estrogen that he produces and his concerns with his audience. Everyday observations, the relationships between men and women, form the backbone of the performance. Of course, hard jokes are not shunned and he keeps a hilarious rant about the National Coat of Arms on his passport.

The will reaffirm to fans of Maassen (and who have not seen the performance in the theater) that he is one of the best comedians, if not the best, in the Netherlands. If that’s the point the film wants to make, the makers have succeeded.

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