Saturday, April 07, 2007

Twee Vrouwen (Twice a Woman)

This is a rare 1979 film by French born George Sluizer based on Dutch Harry Mulisch novel that tells a quite surprising nice story about love and things you do for love.

Since this is 28 years old, information about this movie is quite sparse and confusing to read, as most data do not coincide among different documents. So my research skills helped a lot to find reliable information and were able to find a book called The Cinema of the Low Countries that has a chapter dedicated to this movie. I believe this is the most reliable source available to understand the background of this remarkable movie.

First, lets start with Mulisch novel that had mixed reviews with positive ones like this one “an ingenious but chilly melodrama whose emotions resemble those of successful films”. So it was no surprise that a few years later it became a film, the first for a Mulisch book.

From the many production-interesting facts I share these with you. Sluizer contacted Bibi Andersson after many other international actresses refused to play a lesbian character. To quote Sluizer “Perhaps we tend to assume rather easily in the Netherlands that such a relationship will now (1978) be accepted as a given, but when I was preparing the film, I experienced that this is by no means the case. The company that releases all films by Ingmar Bergman in the US let me know they thought the screenplay was very good but they didn’t want films with a ‘lesbian touch’.”

The film is in English (no Dutch, nor German, nor any other language) and is the object of analysis in other chapter of the book as being representative of the discussion about film language (English) versus literary language (Dutch).

Jazz composer Willem Breuker composed the music for the film and performed it with his internationally acclaimed Willem Breuker Kollektief. Still today the soundtrack is available to purchase as it seem to have sustained the test of time.

Both the film and the novel have a non-chronological structure and for some this may not help to understand the brief interruptions on the main story in the film, as some occur in the very beginning of the film. So, learning about the book helps to better understand the film.

The narrative strategy of the film, focus on one particular character and not show viewers information on other events was broken only in three scenes, when Sylvia and Alfred go to Paris. This change of style enables Sluizer to put in a love scene between a man and a woman, consequently toned down the controversial subject matter of the film and opened opportunities for better distribution.

Both the movie and the novel suggests classical literature background and one remarkable example is shown with one of Alfred opinions “only men or only women cannot produce tragedy… for that, a third party of the other sex is needed”. The parallel with his own role is obvious and it points ahead into a tragic ending. The twist in this story, rarely seen even today, is which character is going to be totally destroyed.

The film was released on May 23, 1979 in 28 Dutch cinemas.

Starring Swedish Bibi Andersson, American Anthony Perkins and Dutch Sandra Dumas (later she adopted the Sandrine name) makes this film a very international production, which is common nowadays but it was not in those days, especially for a Netherlands production.

Bibi Andersson (Laura) performance is great with all the signs of her performances in Ingmar Bergman movies. Anthony Perkins (Alfred) is a surprise as the macho ex-husband with a performance that goes beyond the one-dimensional character. Then newcomer Sandra Dumas (Sylvia) is truly credible as the girl.

As concluded in the book “in production terms both the film and George Sluizer were ahead of their time” and I cannot agree more as still today this film could be breaking new grounds and inspire other filmmakers to do quality stories with high quality performers in this genre.

By the way, this was a low-budget production that took ONLY seven weeks to do! To quote Sluizer: “actually it’s just a low-budget film … two highly-paid actors, a very small crew, and a fast shooting process”.

I feel cheerful and happy to have been able to watch again a Bibi Andersson film, as along with Liv Ullmann are two of my most favorite actresses of all time and still today cherish the memory of their performances in that magnificent Bergman movie Persona.

Truly remarkable high quality movie … still for today and we are in 2007!!!

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