Sunday, December 11, 2011

ADIFF ’11: Parradox

Pim de la Parra is sort of a love-him-or-hate-him kind of guy. Many consider him a pioneer of contemporary Dutch cinema, who has the distinction of co-writing one of Holland’s biggest international hits with Martin Scorsese (1969’s Obsessions). Yet, he made no secret of his motivations for making movies: money and women. There would be a lot of both in his up-and-down career. Persistent documentarian In-soo Radstake tries to get the manic filmmaker to take stock of it all in Parradox (trailer here), which screens this Tuesday, the closing night of this year’s African Diaspora International Film Festival.

A native of colonial era Suriname, de la Parra always felt more closely akin to the Surinamese of African descent than his Sephardic-Jewish heritage. Some find this to be ridiculous posturing and say so vociferously. With his partner Wim Verstappen, de la Parra’s Scorpio Films jump-started the Dutch movie business, cranking out generally well received pictures that were also often more than a bit naughty. The fact that the initial “S” in Scorpio’s logo was a dollar sign rubbed many the wrong way, but it clearly announced their rebellious attitude. Unfortunately, one film would fracture both their friendship and partnership.

On the eve of Suriname’s independence from the Netherlands, de la Parra decided a grand cinematic statement about the unity of the soon-to-be-country’s multi-ethnic people would perfectly capture the spirit of the time. However, Verstappen never really saw it and the international critics ignored it en masse. Today, many recognize One People as a post-colonial classic. (Patrons can judge for themselves when the newly restored film screens after Parradox.)

For someone with such evident self-esteem issues, de la Parra sure is hyper. Indeed, his frequent acting-out for Radstake’s benefit gets rather wearying. Yet, he is an undeniably intriguing figure, who defies easy categorization. One can make comparisons to the sexually frank I am Curious art films of Vilgot Sjöman and the genre programmers of Roger Corman (who also worked with Scorsese early in his career). One could also make analogies between his “minimalist” films and the No Wave movement, but there is no getting around the fact that some of his oeuvre is basically schlock.

Radstake probably has a little too much affection for his subject, because he clearly lets him off the hook on a number of delicate issues. However, he conveys a sense of de la Parra’s diverse output with a number of shrewdly selected video clips that will leave viewers wanting to see many of the full films. He also recorded sit down interviews with a number of the leading lights of Dutch cinema including Paul Verhoeven, Leonard Retel Helmrich, and Silvia Kristel (no Scorsese though, which is strange, considering how many times he pops up in films of this nature).

Parradox probably should have been a breezier affair, celebrating the eccentricity of his films, rather than building dramatic expectations for de la Parra’s reunion with his estranged One People lead actress Willeke van Ammelrooy. Still, it remains a frequently entertaining tribute to highly idiosyncratic filmmaking. Warmly recommended for those who love the craft of filmmaking and movies about movies, Parradox screens this Tuesday night (12/13) at Symphony Space’s Thalia Theater, as the richly diverse 2011 ADIFF comes to a close.