Saturday, October 22, 2016

Dutch deadpan in Alex van Warmerdam's very dry hit-man comedy, SCHNEIDER VS BAX

Remember Borgman -- that dark, Dutch, sort-of-variation on Boudu Saved from Drowning (and other what-to-do-about-the-trashy-tramp movies)? Alex van Warmerdam, the writer/director of that strange, cunning little film is back again with another bizarre, deadpan, dark comedy-of-menace titled SCHNEIDER VS BAX. It arrives this coming week on DVD, and if your taste runs to this sort of thing, the movie is a good example of this sub-genre.

Mr. van Warmerdam (shown above, right, and at left) also co-stars in the film, as he did in Borgman, and his gruff, low-key, macho presence is quite right for both his role and the film. He handles the screenplay and dialog with ease, and his direction ropes his entire cast onto the same page and style, making the most of this kind of deadpan, at which you often don't know whether to laugh or wince. (You'll probably do both at once.) The filmmaker has created a cast of characters that you may find it hard to warm up to, but this is fine, since some of them will not survive the trip.

The tale here is of a pair of hit men, evidently quite good at their jobs, who -- for some reason which we never really learn -- have been pitted against each other by the fellow who gives them their assignments. Van Warmerdam plays Bax, and another actor from Borgman, Tom Dewispelaere  (below), plays Schneider. Neither character knows the other, and though they fairly quickly learn that their boss is playing them against each other, they still evidently feel they must kill that other in order to survive.

Bax gets a surprise visit from his grown daughter (Maria Kraakman, shown below and further below, who is very good in this role) and then from his father -- both of whom complicate his life and reactions -- while Schneider becomes involved with a pimp and whore who equally complicate his assignment. How this all works out managers to be very dark, often funny, and even surprising. You will imagine that you know what is going to happen here, but I can tell you with some certainty that you will be wrong -- in at least a couple of important instances.

Coincidence does occur, and certain scenes seem a tad incredible, and yet so bleak, bizarre and weirdly funny is it all that, somehow, credibility is maintained -- if barely. Simply for the scenes between Bax, his father and daughter, the movie manages to rivet you in its own, special, this-can't-be-happening-but-oh-my-goodness-it-is manner.

In its odd way Schneider vs Bax turns out to be a kind of very late coming-of-age tale -- and a pretty good one, at that -- even though it is not clear for quite some time just who it is that's doing the coming.

From Film Movement and running a fairly sleek 96 minutes, the movie arrives on DVD this Tuesday, October 25 -- for purchase or rental.

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