Monday, December 19, 2016

A Noble Intention (Publieke Werken)--Netflix Film Review

The 2015 Dutch film, A Noble Intention, is a modern historical drama set in late 19th century Amsterdam which is currently available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.A. The movie is based on the novel by actor and author, Thomas Rosenboom, who won the distinguished Libris Literature Award twice. He is the only author to have ever done so.

Frank Ketelaar makes the story come alive for movie fans in his excellent screenplay rendition which is directed by Joram L├╝rsen giving one the overall impression of timeless authenticity reminiscent of classical dramas in both the literary and film genres of storytelling.

Pulieke Werken, or "Public Works" in English, is a much better title for this compelling tale of how progress at the cost of individualism affected many in the West.  plays Vedder, a lower middle class cabinet maker turned violin crafter, who refuses to sell his city home to make way for a massive, world class hotel that will compliment Amsterdam's newly constructed Central train station, whose builders promise will bring in tourists from all over the world. Seeing what he perceives as an opportunity to furnish a first class university education for his disaffected son, Theo, Vedder talks his elderly neighbor and cousin, Anijs, played by Jacob Derwig, into a kind of pyramid emigration scheme, using Jewish peasant peat moss farmers. Their plan is to 'coyote' the impoverished families and funnel them to Vedder's con artist cousin in America, hoping they will land jobs and pay them back with interest for their 'noble' efforts. The plan backfires terribly but not without ironic consequences. Vedder's determination to ride the waves of progress and to lift himself and his son (who couldn't care less) into a higher social class magnifies a type of medieval guilder's hubris that millions of other Europeans hoped to escape by emigration to North America during the Industrial Revolution.

Perhaps what is most moving about this film, along with its superb acting, is the sense that the spirit of Anne Frank seems embedded within Dutch sensibilities to the intelligent viewer. In other words, despite the Dutch Protestant desire to dominate the social milieu of their Golden Age, both spiritually and economically, the soft heart of the ordinary Netherlander has really the noblest intention--to lift everyone in their society on the rising tide of progress and protect them from abuse. This sentiment contradicts the adage that "when a Jew cries, others laugh." Bravo.