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A QUESTION OF SILENCE (DE STIITE ROND CHRISTINE M.) (director/writer: Marleen Gorris; cinematographer: Frans Bromet; editor: Hans van Dongen; music: Lodewijk de Boer; cast: Edda Barends (Christina M.), Cox Habbema (Court Appointee Psychiatrist, Janine Van Den Bos), Nelly Frijda (Waitress), Henriette Tol (Secretary), Edyy Brugman (RuudVan Den Bos), Dolf de Vries (Boutique Manager), Cees Coolen (Police Inspector), Onno Molenkamp (Pathologist), Hans Croiset (Judge); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mat- thijs van Heijningen; Embassy Home Entertainment; 1982-Netherlands-in Dutch with English subtitles)
The uncompromising polemic at least isn’t dogmatic.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A provocative, didactic, propaganda rad-fem film by Dutch director Marleen Gorris (“Antonia’s Line“), that’s in-your-face political, stylish and shrill. It has three unconnected women, of different ages, occupations and backgrounds, spontaneously conspire to brutally murder and mutilate the mild-mannered male owner of an Amsterdam mall boutique, after a housewife is caught shoplifting. Dr. Janine Van Den Bos (Cox Habbema) is appointed by the court to determine their sanity, and goes about interviewing them. The shrink finds the thirtysomething Christine M. (Edda Barends), the catatonic housewife with three kids and married to a civil servant, unwilling to talk because she feels no men ever listen to her anyway; the aging divorced waitress, Ann Jongman (Nelly Frijda), too garrulous and too vocal a foe of married life to be appealing, tells of her husband deserting her; and the intelligent single twentysomething executive secretary, Andrea Brouwer (Henriette Tol), is bitter that her mom nags her to marry to be normal, enraged that she knows more than the board of trustees at her firm but doesn’t get promoted because of sexual discrimination and is unhappy with the shrink’s line of questioning that’s coming only from the male point of view.

Flashbacks follow the three mundane stories of these three obviously deranged ordinary women, whose hidden motive for the murder (there’s no apparent outward motive deduced) is that they all find men intolerable because they were all treated badly by various men in their lives. At the court trial Janine declares the women are sane and after great laughter becomes contagious among the accused the shrink walks out of the proceedings, supposedly with a raised consciousness about feminism, to unite with her women clients (sisterhood) in laughter to reject the absurdity of how the male’s view the proceedings and how they look at the world differently than her sex. The uncompromising polemic at least isn’t dogmatic, instead it’s childishly revengeful, shocking, unsettling and controversial.

The director’s low-budget debut feature shows off her assured directorial skills and her able handling of the irrational plot, as she’s helped by a strong script and by getting good performances from her ladies. The thesis is convincing if one is a believer in Ms. Gorris’s far-fetched viewpoint that murdering a man can be justified if you lump all men together as pigs, who treat women like objects. I don’t believe the feminist cause can be well served by such an outrageous position, as the extreme point taken as gospel by the collective killer fems seems at best meant only as a bargaining chip for further discussion between the sexes. For me, it only closed off further discussion and merely served as a turning off point that even went so far as to show the happily married Janine come to hate her lawyer husband (Edyy Brugman) by the film’s end, only because he dared to disagree with her. The ladies don’t seem too tolerant and their cold-blooded murder can only be excused by reasons of insanity and not by some spurious feminist argument, as this well-made but antagonistic pic wants you to believe. It’s the filmmaker’s belief that in Holland women have been conspicuously silent about their second-class status and are not vocal in demanding their full rights, but it’s a stretch to say that women therefore have the right to castrate men–there must be a better way to make a fem case.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”