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KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic — An impossibly perfect visitor exposes the hidden faultlines within a dysfunctional suburban family in this darkly funny cautionary tale from the Dutch directing debutant Michiel ten Horn, which is showing at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this week. The deadpan tone and ironically sunny aesthetic recalls the bracingly sour tragicomedies of Todd Solondz, but there is more redeeming lightness in this highly engaging Eurodrama, which has enough bittersweet charm and universal relevance to appeal to discerning audiences beyond the festival circuit. Having much of its multilingual dialogue in English may also prove an added selling point.
Our main window on the story is the family’s teenage daughter Eva (Vivian Dierickx), a sensitive ugly duckling who is bullied at school and largely ignored at home. But the arrival of her German exchange student pal Veit (Rafael Gareisen), a strapping Aryan blond with movie-star looks and an apparently angelic nature, sends shockwaves through the entire family. While Eva is consumed by unrequited love – and unspoken lust — her older brothers reveal themselves as racist idiots and pompous jerks. Meanwhile, their bickering parents go off the rails in a doomed bid to match Veit’s New Age lifestyle and charitable good works. The consequences prove catastrophic, and almost fatal.
The film was purportedly inspired by events in the director’s youth, although first-time screenwriter Anne Barnhoorn is also clearly referencing Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s 1968 quasi-Biblical political parable Theorem, in which Terence Stamp‘s beautiful stranger emerges from nowhere to seduce every member of a bourgeois Italian household, transforming their lives but plunging them into despair. Barnhoorn borrows many of Pasolini’s plot developments, but removes most of the sex and leftist social critique. Still, were he still alive, the veteran Italian radical might have been gratified to see history repeating itself just as Marx predicted. His film was tragedy, this is farce.
Ten Horn has a background in animation, hinted at by the film’s bright toybox palette and stylized, cartoonish look. Editing is crisp and camerawork agreeably fluid, most notably in the single bravura tracking shot that frames the final scene. Although it never takes the simplistic option of making Veit an evil sociopath with a smiling face, The Deflowering of Eva Van End essentially inverts Pasolini’s message. Eva and her family are irrevocably changed by their angelic visitor, but his smug superiority eventually proves destructive, and his departure is ultimately a healing process for everyone. Be careful when you wish for perfection, it may just turn up on your doorstep.
Production company: Pupkin Film
Producers: Peter Kuijpers, Sander van Meurs, Iris Otten
Cast: Vivian Dierickx, Rafael Gareisen, Abe Dijkman, Tomer Pawlicki, Jacqueline Blom, Ton Kas
Director: Michiel ten Horn
Screenwriter: Anne Barnhoorn
Cinematographer: Jasper Wolf
Editor: Sander Vos
Music: Djurre de Haan
Sales company: M-Appeal
Unrated, 98 minutes
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