'EuroTrump': Film Review

An intimate documentary biopic.

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders gets a chance to defend himself in this feature documentary from Nicholas Hampson and Stephen Robert Morse.

Controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders makes for an affable commentator on his own life in EuroTrump, a studiously evenhanded look at the anti-Islam populist and the rising nationalism that is his stock in trade. Following Wilders in the run-up to 2017's Dutch election, the film hops between interviews with the man himself and with a series of pundits, most of them skeptical of his agenda. The latter's criticisms are never directly put to Wilders, who instead gets lobbed a series of softballs and word association games by the filmmakers. Nicholas Hampson and Stephen Robert Morse's conventional but snappily engaging documentary should nevertheless prove catnip for political junkies when it arrives on Hulu June 30, after premiering at DOC NYC last year.

Appropriately enough for a feature that's partly about the power of technology, specifically Twitter, the pic opens with direct messages from the filmmakers flung up on the screen, soliciting Wilders' participation. The directors and their subject go on to exhibit a relaxed enjoyment in each other's company, with the Party for Freedom leader narrating a potted history of his political formation and rise. Living in Israel as an 18-year-old, the young national serviceman was struck by the hatred directed at the country by its enemies, which he clearly attributes, then and now, to extremist Islamic beliefs. One of a series of photographs the filmmakers present to him sees the imperious teen getting his trainers polished by an Arab shoeshine. The photo is politically incorrect, the adult Wilders admits, but he still likes it.

Frequent ride-alongs give an informal insight into an ever-unflappable man who thinks of himself as a parliamentary warrior. One scene even has him putting a flak jacket on next to what appears to be a crusaders' sword. A précis of the anti-immigration platform on which Wilders campaigns is supplied by a montage of newscast headlines and archival clips, and the film captures the canny way in which Wilders has consistently moved the goalposts; where once he prefaced comments with an acknowledgement that most Muslims are peace-loving, his rhetoric has become increasingly catch-all. A speech that led to his prosecution by the public attorney, in which he seemed to advocate for deportation, sees him compared to Hitler. Wilders expertly deflects the charge, instead drawing a line between fascism and Islamism.

One commentator notes the fastidious effort that populists put into their appearance, in marked contrast to their drab liberal counterparts. Trevor Noah compares Wilders' slicked-back peroxide mane to Boris Johnson's mop in the U.K., and of course to that of the American incumbent. But though Hitler and Wilders might both know their way around a comb, the latter is more like "a modern-day Winston Churchill," according to The American Freedom Defense Initiative's Pamela Geller, a longtime friend. The rise of populism in the United States shadows everything, and EuroTrump makes the case that the story of the global far-right's current moment begins in the Netherlands.

In addition to his political ideology, Wilders talks about his love for his Hungarian wife and their decision not to have children, and editors Hampson and Luke Springer cut from the incendiary speech that led to his prosecution to Wilders talking about his kittens. Since the assassination of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in 2004, the couple has lived with round-the-clock security — not imprisoned but "unfree," as Wilders puts it. Harry Brokensha's pulsing score turns plaintive during these interludes, with piano chords the soundtrack to isolation. Research into people with 24/7 security shows they're susceptible to paranoia, the film informs us, though this particular persecution complex seems more credible than most, as various clips of death threats made against Wilders make plain.

The Dutch election, in which the momentum of Trump and Brexit was to be either halted or turbocharged in Europe, comes into focus only in the last 20 minutes, with Hampson's crisp lensing following the candidate around a variety of wintry campaign events, from Rotterdam to the Hague to Spijkenisse, the party's spiritual home. The way in which the result was framed by international journalists such as Christiane Amanpour as a blow to nativism is roundly labeled misguided by the locals, who point out that Wilders was able, though crime and unemployment are low, to make the election entirely about identity. Wilders himself shows no signs of being rattled by placing second; next time he'll gain a majority, he promises.

Production company: OBSERVATORY

Directors: Nicholas Hampson, Stephen Robert Morse

Writers: Maria Springer, Stephen Robert Morse

Producer: Stephen Robert Morse

Executive Producer: Maria Springer

Cinematographer: Nicholas Hampson

Editors: Nicholas Hampson, Luke Springer

Music: Harry Brokensha

92 minutes.