17 August, 2008

Ober (Waiter) (2006)

Prepare to meet your maker!

Reality's not what it used to be - the idea of 'meta' reality, namely the displacement of characters/director/author/viewers in cinematic narrative has been done before - John Carpenter's In The Mouth Of Madness (1995) played the game for scares, with its central character slowly realizing that he is the doomed hero in a Lovecraftian nightmare that is being written by someone else, and then there was Philippe de Broca's Le Magnifique (1973) starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jacqueline Bisset, which played the concept squarely (and succesfully) for laughs.

Dutch writer-director Alex van Warmerdam's approach falls somewhere between the two, and the result is an increasingly surreal comedy-drama that owes more than a little to David Lynch.

Van Warmerdam is also the star - he plays hapless (and largely hopeless) waiter Edgar, who is beset on all sides by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. His mistress Victoria (Ariane Schluter) is a possessive, demanding nymphomaniac, his wife a bed-ridden harridan. His customers abuse him around the clock, and his next-door neighbours are mobsters. You couldn't make it up, right?

And there's the rub - someone is making it up, namely screenplay writer Herman (Mark Rietman), and his wife Suzie (Thekla Reuten), who doesn't like the direction the story is going in and is only too happy to make changes without permission. Things are getting out of hand - and this becomes obvious to the authors when their central, fictitious character starts making house calls, demanding that things change for the better. Understandably, this puts writer Herman at something of a disadvantage...

The humour is in fact a good deal more subtle than Le Magnifique, but there are still more than a few genuine belly laughs to be had from this jet-black confection. Appreciation comes from suspending disbelief and, to be fair, van Warmerdam's direction leaves little pause for thought (or breath) as the respective worlds of Edgar and his authors begin to unravel.

There's also pathos here, too - we're never sure if sympathy is the right reaction to Edgar's plight, as he is a piece of fiction writ very large but, thanks to van Warmerdam's laconic approach to his own suffering, one would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved. To be enjoyed with a pinch of salt, perhaps, but a refreshing break from all that ciné verité.

Awards: Golden and Platin Film Netherlands 2007 (Golden Film). Netherlands Film Festival 2006 (Best Production Design, Best Screenplay, Alex van Warmerdam).

97 mins. In Dutch.

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