Today’s distraction is titled AmnesiA. This 2001-produced Dutch language picture has been advertised as a Drama/Mystery that incorporates both a noirish slant along with some dark humor. Written and directed by Martin Koolhoven, it starred Fedja van Huet, Carice van Houten, Theo Maassen, and Sacha Bulthuis in the most prominent roles. At the 2001 Nederlands Film Festival, actor van Huet took home top honors in the category of ‘Best Actor’ while Bulthuis had to settle for the honor of a nomination alone in the category of ‘Best Actress.’
As per my usual format, the film’s synopsis appears below. My two cents on its construction follows.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A photographer returns to his paternal home because his mother is seriously ill. The confrontation with his past leads to panic in a surreal, stylized psychological drama.”
Having seen a respectable share of foreign releases, I wasn’t all that much surprised by AmnesiA. Suffice it to say – without going into a great discussion – family secrets tend to figure into their dramas a great deal of the time; and the typical feature rather effectively pulls back layer after layer before leaving its central characters bare in the closing images.
Essentially, AmnesiA is the story of two twin brothers – Alex and Aram – and the curious and tragic circumstances that led to both who they are and what they cannot escape. One has stayed home, inheriting the business from their late father, and gotten involved in a life of crime in their tiny village. The other went off to the city in pursuit of a career in photography, but he’s curiously found himself unable to deal with people, preferring instead to deal in pictures of – say – still life. Van Huet plays both roles – and he does so with an almost chilling attention to detail that one might wonder how he kept it all straight in his own head. Neither are all that particularly relatable – certainly not the way most audiences appreciate – but, come the ending, Koolhoven’s script reveals the dark secret they shared that ultimately turned them into these disconnected and somewhat fragmented siblings.
In one of her earlier roles, Van Houten is particularly impressive as the kinda/sorta female catalyst ‘Sandra’ that both sets these brothers at odds as well as invites them behind her own curtain of contemplative insanity. Though she spends a good number of moments saying very little, her eyes convey a struggle going on within – a constant reminder for anyone smitten by her charms. In the role of the mother of her two conflicted boys, Bulthuis rather effortlessly conveys the obliviousness that quite probably put her children (and her late husband) on the path to self-destruction. Developments late in the picture suggest she might be suffering from some early stages of dementia but given Koolhoven’s unwillingness to commit to certain narrative elements that may’ve just been intended for laughs, though it’s still quite dark.
Still, there’s an awful lot of good and bad that collide in welcome measure in AmnesiA. The players make for a solid ensemble, but I can’t help but wonder what some of the lesser scenes were truly meant to mean. Does pissing on a grave have deeper context, or was that only meant for a cheap laugh? What was it that the thieves stole – resulting in one man getting shot – and why were we never told? What were all of the fires supposed to suggest about Sandra, or were they just demonstrating how quickly everything can go up in flames? And do the Dutch really just bury their dead in the side yard or out front by the steps when they pass?
I might never know.
But was I supposed to care?
AmnesiA (2001) was produced by Motel Films. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the good people at Cult Epics. As for the technical specifications? This film looks very good from start-to-finish with some high-quality sights and sounds. As for the special features? This two-disc collection will likely keep fans busy for some time. Disc 1 includes an all-new 4K HD Transfer (from the original camera negative); an introduction from Koolhoven; an audio commentary by Koolhoven and actor Fedja van Huet; a conversation with Koolhoven and star van Houten; a making-of short; some behind-the-scenes materials; and the theatrical trailer. Disc 2 includes two other films from Koolhoven – Suzy Q (1999) and Dark Light (1997) and their associated trailers.
Recommended, but …
I suspect some audiences will experience a bit of frustration – as I did – in calculating just what to make of Amnesia. At times, it feels very much like a David Lynch film, though the humor doesn’t always work because character motivations remain mostly out of reach. Some scenes are, simply, too long for the minimal weight they carry; and I believe Koolhoven may’ve been reaching toward a bit of absurdity here and there that didn’t quite ring true. Given this was one of the auteurs earlier features, I’m wondering if his still-growing command of structure and image may’ve occasionally obscured what a tighter edit could’ve achieved. Good, often funny, and still makes you think.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Cult Epics provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of AmnesiA (2001) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.