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Review: You Used to Laugh (1983)

Director: | 85 minutes | drama, biography | Actors: Martine Bijl, Kees Brusse, , , , , Rijk de Gooyer, Guus Hermus, Hetty Heyting, , , Wim Kouwenhoven, , , Sacco van der Made, , Paul Meyer, , , , , Wim Sonneveld, , , Carolien van den Berg

The fact that the texts of Simon Carmiggelt go well with the images of Bert Haanstra could already be seen in the documentary about the Dutch people called “Alleman”. With “You used to be able to laugh” shows once again how much these two friends fit together in terms of sensitivity. Now Haanstra does not need to add much to the texts – mainly monologues – of Carmiggelt. He merely records how a host of Dutch top actors render his words. Occasionally he does show some environmental shots with people jogging, or relaxing, and also, as usual, animals appear in the to ironically support the human interactions. But it is really all about Simon Carmiggelt himself, who talks the pieces together and, in addition to his amusing verses and observed conversations, also shares very personal matters with the viewer.

“You used to laugh” is a film dedicated entirely to Carmiggelt, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. And as a collage of his work, as a personal insight into his soul, the film also comes into its own. The pieces themselves, a dozen in number, are usually not very startling in content, but the stories, with a few exceptions, are always at the very least interesting and worth watching. And there are some very nice pieces that add the necessary peaks to the collection. But it’s not always about the pure content. The selection of great actors and actresses really make Carmiggelt’s words come to life. The way in which something is told should not be underestimated. For example, the part with the noisy man sitting next to a fisherman in the hands of a mediocre “performer” would probably appeal a lot less to the imagination than it does now. Now this man is shaped by John Kraaijkamp Sr., who turns him into a dryly funny – instead of just annoying – figure. Haanstra also adds nice shots of ducks flying away, which are startled when the man again exclaims that he is there for it “REST!” coming.

But it is, of course, sacrilege to claim that Carmiggelt is a mediocre, or uninteresting, writer. And this is certainly not the case here either. It is only the case that spoken text in film form must nevertheless have some added value in the performance, however visual or funny the content may be. And he is, for example, in the opening segment, in which Martine Bijl tells a very funny story about her inability to be alone, and therefore hangs out with the worst men, even with a psychopath (“oh well, as long as you earn your living”) . The pinnacle is the mirror she had put in her cell – she was in prison for covering up her husband’s reports – to combat loneliness. At least then she had the feeling that someone was sitting opposite her during dinner.

Just as funny is the famous piece with Kees van Koten, who enters as the Dirty Man during a autograph session by Carmiggelt and mistakes him for another writer, the female doctor Dr. Dick Faber. He thinks that “Carmiggelt” is his “sadonym” – because “that is not the name of anyone” – and then sees a double, obscene meaning in every book of his. From the book “Fluiten In Het Donker”, he remarks, for example, “Nice, eh, with your flute in the dark”. And when he then sees the title “Start Small”: “Yes, you have to start small, huh. You can’t walk with such a big cinnamon stick all day long ”. Furthermore, an old recording of a performance by Wim Sonneveld provides a comical note, as well as a virtually textless film about a couple who go cycling for a while, but whose husband turns out to be a bit grumpy, and his wife has become his slave, who has to clean his orange and hold his cigar. However, at least half of the film is not comical in nature, but nostalgic, tragic or compassionate.

A piece with Mary Dresselhuis is about old age and which defects may surface in the long run. It is a good ending when she remarks to the listening Carmiggelt, who has just said that he is sixty-eight years old: “Then you are still young. Enjoy it”. Several stories are about loneliness or disappointments in life. Revealing is the final segment in which actor Paul Steenbergen represents Simon Carmiggelt himself with his story about his father, and how he felt guilty for years before his death.. Fortunately, Carmiggelt (aka, Haanstra) ends on a positive note by showing that he honors life and surrounds himself with things, or rather people, that are dear to him. That happens literally when his eight grandchildren walk into the room to take a new photo for the cover of his popular collection “Ik Mag Niet Gopperen”; an intentionally positive title, and a statement that also applies to the viewer of this film. Not a brilliant, optimally oiled work, but a film in which the positive points outweigh the negative ones.

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