Chez Nous: Film Review

This pink caper movie is somewhat slow out of the starting blocks but works its way towards a satisfying finale.

Dutch director Tim Oliehoek casts Alex Klaasen, Thomas Acda, Achmed Akkabi, Peter Faber and Tobias Nierop in his pink caper movie.

The habitués of a heavily indebted Amsterdam gay bar plan to steal a necklace with pink diamonds during Gay Pride to save their watering hole from bankruptcy in Chez Nous, the latest action-comedy hybrid from Dutch director Tim Oliehoek (Too Fat, Too Furious).

The mix of light, occasionally hit-and-miss comedy and low-stakes action setpieces is typically Oliehoek, though the cozy characters and clear queer sensibility can no-doubt be credited to Frank Houtappels, one of the Netherlands’ most high-profile screenwriters who’s responsible for hits such as Vipers Nest (Gooische vrouwen), a hit TV series and feature spin-off that plays like a cross between Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives. Though too laid-back and scattershot in the early going, Chez Nous steadily builds to a satisfying finale that takes full advantage of its Gay Pride setting and incorporates numerous humorous nods to Mission: Impossible and its ilk.

This Netherlands Film Festival premiere was released commercially Oct. 3rd and should do decent if not exceptional business locally. Festivals and distributors, especially but not exclusively those catering to LGBT audiences, should welcome what’s certainly one of the world’s first pink caper comedies.

The welcoming café Chez Nous, in the Voetboogstraat alley smack in the center of Amsterdam, is run by the elderly Adje (John Leddy), who’s something of a surrogate father to Bertie (Alex Klaasen, from Vipers Nest), the joint’s main drag performer who never knew his real father and who’s always fantasized about secretly being the son of Dutch singer (and queer and 1980s icon) Anita Meyer. Their makeshift modern family also includes straight waitress Babette (Tina de Bruin) and regular Rachid (Achmed Akkabi), of Maghrebi origins, who was thrown out of his parents’ home after he came out to them (Rachid’s thorny family issues are then strangely ignored for the rest of the film, though parents-children relations are a recurring motif, almost reducing Rachid to the token multicultural character in the process).

Other regulars at the bar include handsome gay lawyer Peter-Jan (Frederik Brom) and the straight and married glassblower from across the street, Gijs (Thomas Acda), who also feels at home there, much to the dismay of his wife, Hetty (Isa Hoes), who stays at home with their two kids.

When Adje ends up in the hospital, Bertie discovers that the bar is not only practically bankrupt but that the neighboring club run by the bullish and vaguely homophobic De Beer (Jack Wouterse), would like to buy the building so they can expand. To avoid this from happening, they team up with an unexpected ally, Bertie’s real father, Helmer (Peter Faber), whose identity is revealed by Adje on his deathbed and who turns out to have a criminal record longer than Diana Ross’s discography.

He suggests they steal a diamond necklace from the (fictive) Royal Museum, where Rachid conveniently works as a security guard. The hustle and bustle of the Amsterdam Gay Pride, with its canal parade and outlandishly dressed revelers, will provide them with cover.

Houtappels and Oliehoek take their time to set up the characters but the stakes are too low or obvious in the early going and the laughs too few to ramp up tension or momentum. Indeed, there’s a sense here, as in Houtappels’ other screenplays for movies rather than series, that he’s so used to writing for long-form and long-running TV he’s either incapable or doesn’t feel the need to adapt to the very different pacing demands of feature films.

But when the heist idea has finally been accepted by the group and the film moves into the planning stages -- complicated by Rashid’s growing attachment to a cute new colleague, Ruben (Tobias Nierop), who turns out to be De Beer’s son -- things kick into high gear. The actual break-in, performed by Bertie and Helmer, conveniently combines father-son trust-issues and action and a frantic drive in a cramped car through the narrow streets of Amsterdam is a late-reel highlight, while their arrival at an auction house cleverly brings the various plotlines together.

Hardcore gay cinephiles might balk at the film’s obvious concessions to straight audiences, with the film’s many shots of Gijs and Hetty kissing or in bed far eclipsing the same-sex canoodling of all the other characters combined. But there’s no denying the film’s generally positive message of tolerance and Houtappels and Oliehoek manage to have some fun with gay clichés without tipping over into veiled homophobia.

The actors all seem to be having a ball, with Klaasen especially impressive as the pivot on which the entire ensemble turns and Akkadi and Nierop delivering on the promise of (initially frustratingly one-sided) male-on-male puppy love. A cameo appearance by Meyer is of course de rigueur and composer Fons Merkies smartly braids notes from her most famous songs into the gently supportive score. Oliehoek’s regular cinematographer, Rolf Dekens, makes the most of the handful of scenes set during Amsterdam’s famous Gay Pride canal parade, elevating the film’s production values and its scope, as most of the interiors feels somewhat cramped, occasionally lending the film a somewhat stagey feel.

Venue: Netherlands Film Festival (Competition)
Production companies: BosBros, eOne Benelux, Cine cri de coeur, NTR
Cast: Alex Klaasen, Thomas Acda, Frederik Brom, Tina de Bruin, Achmed Akkabi, Peter Faber, Tobias Nierop, John Leddy, Frans van Deursen, Isa Hoes, Anita Meijer, Jack Wouterse
Director: Tim Oliehoek
Screenwriter: Frank Houtappels
Producers: Burny Bos, Ruud van der Heyde
Executive producer: Richard Claus
Co-producer: Marina Blok
Director of photography: Rolf Dekens
Production designers: Wilbert van Dorp, Barbara Westra
Music: Fons Merkies
Costume designers: Bho Roosterman, Tine Deseure
Editor: Bas Icke
No rating, 102 minutes.

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