Color, 2001, 89 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Martin Koolhoven
Starring Fedja van Huêt, Carice van Houten, Theo Maassen, Sacha Bulthuis
Cult Epics (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Before he hit the international scene with 2008's acclaimed Winter in Wartime (Oorlogswinter) and the controversially brutal 2016 western Brimstone, Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven was already a force on the local scene thanks to his acclaimed work on both the big and small screens. Crossing paths several times with actors who made it big on Games of Thrones, he helped launch the career of the extremely talented Carice van Houten who made her mark worldwide on that show as Melisandre as well as her unforgettable lead role in Paul Verhoeven's Black Book. Now their early work together can finally be seen more easily by English-speaking audiences with a Blu-ray release centered around their first theatrical feature, AmnesiA, an inventive thriller (and dark comedy, more or less).
Incommunicado with his family since the death of his father, oddly obsessive photographer Alex (van Huêt, Character, Speak No Evil) gets a call from his estranged identical brother, Aram (also van Huêt), to come back to their dilapidated family home to see their mother (Bulthuis) now in declining health with severe stomach ulcers. On the way he's surprised in his car by Sandra (van Houten), a young pyromaniac who tags along for the trip. Upon arrival they end up tangled in Aram's criminal life, which currently involves stashing a bullet-wounded associate (Maassen) at the house. Soon the family psychodramas and secrets pile up as the brothers end up clashing once again.
Extremely well acted by the two leads, AmnesiA (whose title promises something a bit different than what you get) is an engaging chamber piece that adds some quirky humor to its Euro thriller trappings. The twin conceit has been done countless times in films before, but this one adds a new wrinkle with the tension already in place from the outset and Alex not even wanting to answer his brother's call. The film looks great as well, with an early Danny Boyle feel at times, and the tight running time builds up nicely to a discreet and evocative semi-open ending.
For its first home video release of any kind in North America, Cult Epics' region-free Blu-ray edition of AmnesiA comes as a two-disc set featuring an excellent a/v presentation of the film from a fresh 4K scan from the original camera negative. No issues to report here; it looks immaculate, and the LPCM 2.0 stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1, and (extraneous) Dolby Digital 5.1 Dutch audio options all sound very good and come with optional English subtitles. To these ears the LPCM 2.0 is the way to go as it packs the most punch in the score, but try the 5.1 as well to compare. An upbeat and informative commentary by Koolhoven and van Huet is moderated by Peter Verstraten and covers the process to making the film, the relative inexperience feature-wise of many of the participants, some of the significant roles the actors went on to, and the nature of the Dutch film distribution at the time. A 45m38s video conversation between Koolhoven (who also provides a 1m2s intro about how he meant the film to be funny) and van Houten is a deep dive into their two big projects together, the circumstances of working opposite a leading man playing two roles, the approach to doing genre films in Holland, and the atmosphere of shooting partially in Belgium in summertime. An archival making-of documentary (37m53s) features the director interviewed in very dark, moody lighting, interspersed with production footage. Also included are the trailer and bonus trailers for Death Laid an Egg, Naked Over the Fence, Pastorale 1943, The Debut, Frank & Eva, and Blue Movie.
A second Blu-ray highlights two more Koolhoven features made for television starting with 1999's Suzy Q (84m35s), his first teaming with van Houten and one that helped put both of them on the map. Based on the real-life experiences of screenwriter Frouke Fokkema, it focuses on Suzy (van Houten) on the cusp of adulthood in the latter half of the 1960s. Her obsession with The Rolling Stones (and Mick Jagger in particular) is a means of escape from her dreary everyday life with a family including a cold and brutal dad (Jack Wouterse), a clueless and distracted mom (Linda van Dyck), and two brothers, stoner Palmer (Game of Thrones' Michiel Huisman) and sensitive Zwier (Roeland Fernhout). When she finds out the Stones and Marianne Faithfull will be making an appearance in Amsterdam, she takes matters into her own hands in an attempt to change her fortunes. Again this one is very well acted and filled with colorful period detail; it's worth noting that this presentation has the original soundtrack featuring some signature '60s songs, the reason it's been so rarely seen in the past outside of the director himself throwing it onto YouTube out of frustration. Also included is 1997's Dark Light (Duister Licht) (54m45s), a snowy two-hander for actors Marc van Uchelen and Viviane de Muynck about a robber who breaks into a farmhouse only to find the sore-covered, shotgun-toting owner has an agenda of her own and isn't so eager to let him leave. It's a crazy and perverse little mini-feature with a particularly brave and unabashed performance by The Assault's van Uchelen, who sadly died far too young in 2013. Both films look and sound great and also feature their respective trailers.
Reviewed on April 11, 2023