Friday, June 03, 2011

Daalder at AFA: The White Slave

Director Rene Daalder’s eclectic film career included the designing the computer program that produced the distinctive animation for the otherwise undistinguished adaptation of Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come. After dabbling with film scripts, Rem Koolhaas would become a Pritzker Prize winning architect. Cinematographer Jan De Bont would eventually helm mid-1990’s blockbusters, like Speed and Twister. One would hardly guess anything of the kind was in store for the trio from watching The White Slave, their bizarre noir collaboration from 1969, which kicks off the Anthology Film Archives’ Daalder retrospective this coming Wednesday.

Kurt was a hero, who died as a result of his work in the Dutch resistance. His brother Günther is not so clear-cut. Evidently, they look quite a bit alike though, which means Kurt’s surviving lover Loudy is automatically quite interested in the long lost brother. However, the late brother’s heroism did not extend to fidelity. In fact, part of the business Günther has come to Amsterdam to attend to involves Kurt’s illegitimate daughter, Marlene. Yet, through an unlikely set of circumstances, Günther and Loudy are quickly swept up in a white slaving conspiracy that covets Marlene. Make no assumptions about their involvement though.

Aside from an apparently heavy reliance on coincidence, White starts out like a conventional film of continental intrigue, but Daalder (and co-writer Koolhaas) slowly but steadily crank up the weirdness until about halfway through, like frogs in boiling water, viewers realize they are watching one seriously odd film. Characters frequently respond to situations in wholly inappropriate ways and change their temperament and ethical nature several times over. While it all proceeds in an orderly linear fashion, it would still be a stretch to call the narrative logical. Indeed, absurdity with the trappings of international skullduggery seems to be the point of it all.

Resembling a flinty Charlie Rose, Günther Ungeheuer appropriately hams up brother Günther’s moral ambiguity. Andrea Domburg projects a certain Kristin Scott Thomas ice queen vibe as Loudy, while Karin Feddersen is at least decorative enough as Marlene. Indeed, the cast is fine, provided you do not get hung up worrying over details like motivation.

Thoroughly strange and ultimately a little unsettling, White is a slippery film to get a handle on. Clearly though, it could never be produced today, given its constant references to the cruelly perverted Arabs, for whom the captive women are intended. Recommended for adventurous genre enthusiasts, White screens during the AFA Daalder retrospective this Wednesday (6/8) and the following Sunday (6/12).