Home sweet Hollandafter Hollywood hell

by Giovanni Fazio

Director Paul Verhoeven is living, breathing proof of that old Hollywood adage, “You’re only as good as your last film.”

After relocating from his native Holland to Hollywood in the 1980s, he became a bona fide hitmaker with “Robocop,” “Total Recall,” and the era-defining “Basic Instinct.” But when the director’s much-touted “Showgirls” tanked in ’95, Verhoeven soldiered through the already green-lighted “Starship Troopers” — which also got a lukewarm reaction — before screeching to a dead halt in 2000 with “Hollow Man,” which starred Kevin Bacon.

It took a few years, but Verhoeven has fled Hollywood for the Netherlands, and with pan-European financing, has put together one of the most lavish, expensive Euro-films ever made.

Verhoeven seems happy with his new approach, as evidenced by his recent appearance before Tokyo’s press corps, where he gave typically loquacious comments about “Black Book.”

* On his leading lady

“I think, in all honesty, she’s the most talented, wonderful actress I have ever worked with in my life. I mean, I’ve worked with many actresses, and often they were good, and they became better, and the script was good, and I was good . . . but Carice is an extraordinary talent and I’ve never met anyone like that. If Carice Van Houten had not existed, it would have been impossible to make this movie.”

* On how the Dutch film industry has changed since the ’80s

“From a professional point of view, things have gotten much better. There have been many movies made in Holland over the past 10 or 15 years, based on a certain tax system that added money to Dutch productions. Therefore there were more crews and people have more experience. So when I came from the USA back to Holland, I had the feeling, from the professional view, that there was no difference. The American crews and the Dutch crews were as good.”

* On what he learned in Hollywood

“One thing I learned is to be more aware of what I would call compelling narrative, a driving narrative. If you look at my Dutch movies, they’re really just scenes that go from one to another. It’s not so much a part of European thinking. Even in Fellini’s “8 1/2,” there’s no narrative. In America, narrative is everything, perhaps too much so.”

* On reaction to his new film in Holland

“You might remember that when I made movies in Holland in the ’70s and ’80s, there was an extremely negative response to my work from film critics, because it was considered to be decadent, perverted, superficial and making Dutch society look bad. Now that didn’t change much. But the Dutch public, not the critics, loved the movie. For an over-16 (R-rated) movie, it has been the most successful movie of the last 20 years. Although the movie is provocative, and not always portraying the Dutch in the nicest light — because there’s a lot of shadow there — the audience embraced the movie. They seemed to accept this historical reality as the truth.”

* On whether his own experiences as a child during the war influenced the film

“Not in a narrative sense, but from an emotional point of view it was very easy to jump into that period. I used my memories to fill in the atmosphere; the story itself, I took from archival research. My years as a young child in (wartime) Holland — you should not think I was traumatized by all the things that I had seen: the dead bodies, the ruins, the bombings and the rockets. I saw it like the ultimate wonderful science fiction. I had a great time during the war! That sounds strange, but you should remember the movie that John Boorman made, “Hope and Glory.” That’s a little bit like my view.”

* On whether he had any problems including provocative content

“No. In America, the money is always there, but the (artistic) freedom is sometimes difficult to find. In Europe, the freedom is always there, but the money is difficult to find.

From the artistic point of view, I was completely master and commander of my movie. Whatever scenes I invented with my scriptwriter, if they were harsh or sexual or whatever, no one — neither the producers, nor the government — would protest or ask me to change it. Which happens a lot in the USA, of course, with violence or sexuality. You know, “Basic Instinct” came out in a different version (in the USA) than the rest of the world. I had to change a lot of scenes because there was too much nudity.”

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