Remaking Theo van Gogh: Stanley Tucci Goes Dutch With 'Blind Date'

Cinemavault Releasing

City Pulse | September 21, 2009
Stanley Tucci's American adaptation of assassinated Dutch director Theo van Gogh's 1996 film by the same title is a theatrically bound one-act play about a married couple attempting to reconcile the death of their daughter. Tucci plays amateur magician and cabaret owner Don, who places ads in the local paper for his wife Janna (Patricia Clarkson) to reply to, in character, when they meet at Don's bar for their "blind" dates. In one introduction, Don pretends to be a sightless man, and in another he plays the part of an interested journalist looking for an aggressive woman. The encounters serve as spring boards to conversations geared as a kind of mutual therapy session. But the dates never end in a good way. Efficient voice-over narration from beyond the grave gives the deceased daughter's side of the story, but it's still not enough information about the missing home life that the couple must needs share. Patricia Clarkson breathes life into her ever morphing character, but Stanley Tucci doesn't fair as well in modulating Don's eternal misery. As a theatrical filmic exercise, Blind Date is a fair experiment. Just don't go expecting to see a traditional movie.

Blind Date is the second of three American adaptations of van Gogh's films. In 2007, Steve Buscemi directed a version of the Dutch director's 2003 film Interview, and John Turturro is currently in production of 1-900, an update of van Gogh's 1994 film 06.

Anytime you're dealing with an homage dedicated to an artist who was murdered for their art, as Theo van Gogh was, context is everything. As the great-grandson of the famous painter's art-dealer brother, also named Theo, the filmmaker famously took pride in voicing his hostility toward religion. Credited with making 25 films, it was a 10-minute short film that van Gogh made in response to 9/11 (entitled Submission: Part 1) that cost the filmmaker his life. While riding his bicycle to work in Amsterdam on the morning of November 2, 2004, Muslim extremist Mohammed Bouyeri shot, stabbed, and slit van Gogh's throat. Bouyeri has since been tried for the crime and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Available for viewing on, Submission: Part 1 (written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- a former member of the Dutch House of Representatives) is a didactic one-woman monologue wherein a young Muslim woman, wearing a veil and transparent gown over her nude body tattooed with verses from the Koran, speaks to Allah in the voices of four different characters. A contrarian instigator who liked to adopt radical stances in his incendiary political columns, van Gogh initially supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq before later recanting, and called Submission a "political pamphlet." The film essentially describes ways in which the teachings of the Koran endorse abuse and imprisonment of Muslim women. It brings into question a religious-backed culture of violence against women. Theatrical in nature, Submission: Part 1 is tame by Western standards, but does carry an implication of latent suicide that Blind Date shares.

A common thread in van Gogh's films are characters who desperately try to articulate an unknowable pain of individual existence. In Blind Date, Don and Janna engage in role play sessions where they perform for the bartender and patrons, but more so for one other. They gently guide and push one another toward some elusive redemption that they might hang their hopes for the future on. The dates serve as a kind of abstract public love-making where release in never allowed. The drama comes purely from insinuation and unexpected bursts of emotion that reveal the seams of heightened romantic tension running through a doomed relationship. Don and Janna share a similar unspoken agenda not far removed from the painter Vincent van Gogh's untimely fate. As with the filmmaker himself we know that regardless of what we think, say or do, no one gets out alive.

Not Rated. 80 mins. (B-) (Three Stars)
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