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DRESS, THE (Jurk, De)(director/writer: Alex van Warmerdam; cinematographer: Marc Felperlaan; editor: Rene Wiegmans; cast: Henri Garcin (Van Tilt), Ariane Schluter (Johanna), Alex van Warmerdam (Train Conductor), Rijk de Gooyer (Martin), Elisabeth Hoijtink (Stella), Olga Zuiderhoek (Marie), Eric van der Donk (Painter); Runtime: 98; An Attitude Films release of a Graniet Film production; 1996-Netherlands)
“Since I did not find the film particularly perceptive or funny, it is hard for me to recommend it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This social comedy is slick and sick, told in short sketches where absurdity and perversity go hand in hand with the subject matter of the film — the dress, which is used as a mere prop. We see the dress from its inception as its cotton material is picked in the fields of Spain to its unlucky-in-love designer who created its pattern of imaginary red and yellow leaves on a blue background, to its death by cremation as its last owner, a homeless lady, is put to rest in it. To emphasize the bad karma of the dress, it is shown how some troubled men created it and merchandised it. The fashion designer of this plain summer dress is a pervert with a pig fetish and to add insult to injury, the dress is worn mostly by losers who are taken in by its optimistic design and colors.

The film could have gone on ad infinitum, if the director wasn’t kind enough to end the film with a good old mercy killing. The dress becomes the object of the film and as the director and writer and actor, Alex van Warmerdam, said: “We used a dress in the film because women wear dresses.” But by making it just an object, giving it no other symbolic significance, the film has to rely on its biting satiric humor to carry the story. And since, I couldn’t find myself laughing at its Monthy Python-like skits, I therefore found myself underwhelmed with this third film by the independent cult film director.

This bawdy comedy should be more appealing to an audience in the Netherlands, since they have an added plus going for them–they should be more able to recognize the cameos that some of the notable Dutch film stars make in it.

The first couple who buy the dress in a dress-shop get robbed and the woman gets extremely sick as soon as they bring the dress home. When the husband hangs it out to dry on the clothesline, it blows away and falls eventually into the the hands of a pretty cleaning lady (Ariane) who feels very sexy wearing it. The ticket-collector (Alex van Warmerdam) on the train is so attracted by it that he follows her home where she lives with an older artist (Eric ), a real cold fish. The dress only inspires him to redraw the drab blue dress he was working on in his canvas, with this brighter pattern. When the artist steps out with his artist friends, the train conductor comes back to rape her. This was the most risque and politically incorrect scene in the film, but it also turned out to be a rather tame but funny scene. The humor came at the expense of the pathetic lady being chased by the rapist, who kept shouting out “I’m normal.”

As the cleaning lady is now unhappy with the dress she gives it away to some rip-off charity seekers, who sell it to a boutique. The dress is then made to look more chic and youth orientated, so an attractive teenager buys it. In a long litany of coincidences, the train conductor is there to try and rape her. This rape scene was crasser than the other one, though for a few moments it had the same hard-edge of violence to it that a film like “Funny Games” had. But comedy is the vehicle here. When the teen escapes from her sleeping would-be rapist, the dress is promptly stolen by a homeless lady in the park.

The final act of indignity for the dress is when the gloomy artist’s rendition of it, is hung in a gallery as a great art work; the train conductor then appears to rip it apart, as a tour guide helplessly watches. This violent act fits in with all the other themes the film superficially covers: of sexual harassment, rape, dysfunctional relationships, insanity, homelessness, fake charities, bogus art, and poor working relationships.

Since I did not find the film particularly perceptive or funny, it is hard for me to recommend it.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”