Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A Dutch/Spanish coproduction, Grimm is a handsomely mounted absurdist fantasy in dire need of a workable script. In the hands of director Alex van Warmerdam, it starts with promise but soon dissolves into a fairly pointless twisted comedy drama. We wait in vain for some kind of organizing theme or principle to appear to lend it some reason to be. This is a 'personal vision' picture, but the visions we're offered just aren't compelling.
The story line is simple enough. Full-grown brother and sister Maria and Jacob (Halina Reijn and Jacob Derwig) are abandoned by their father in a snowy forest in a teasing imitation of the beginning of Hansel and Gretel. Our interest fades as they embark on a series of disconnected mini-adventures that fail to build in character or theme. They're sexually abused by a farmer and his wife before escaping in a scene that tries unsuccessfully to be funny. Their next two or three adventures involve sex in predictable situations that relate the pair to modern urban runaways - prostitution, theft, murder. Maria and Jacob's close relationship may be incestuous, and their mutual devotion is all that holds the film together. Most of what happens is unpleasant. They kill a man during a failed robbery and steal the clothing of a wealthy Spanish lady while riding on a presumably stolen motorbike.
The film's idea of humor is illustrated when Jacob steals a truck. The drunken owner catches him in the act but instead of objecting, helps Jacob get it started. All of these muted adventures occur in an elaborate but emotionally remote abstracted reality. Grimm is the kind of bad art filmmaking that assumes our interest without earning it.
Grimm mostly just sits there, beautifully shot and dramatically inert. The 'children' want to relocate with an Uncle in Spain, an effort that comes to nothing. Maria meets and marries Carmelo Gómez's wealthy surgeon, key events that frustratingly take place off-camera. The main central section touches upon mad doctor clichés and anti-Spanish stereotypes, with demonstrations of macho and animal cruelty. The weak finish in an abandoned wild-west movie town seems to have been chosen because of the location's availability, and the unresolved ending does not leave us curious to see more. Some cult talents weave completely personal fantasies that intrigue and excite, no matter how obscure or edgy. David Lynch comes to mind. Grimm never interests us enough to make us care.
Home Vision Entertainment's DVD of Grimm is a flawless enhanced transfer filled with beautiful images. The cover illustration of the 'adult children' Jacob and Maria fleeing in the woods is typical of van Warmerdam's decorative but uninvolving images. Audio is equally clear, with the director providing his own, sometimes interesting background music.
Director van Warmerdam appears in a slow commentary (care to hear the story of Hansel and Gretel again?) and a better interview, speaking English in both. We see a gallery of his paintings and are offered a previous film of his called Painting that is indeed an animated painting somewhat similar to the early work of David Lynch. A roughly painted group of intense men stare as various reclining women materialize in the foreground. Unfortunately for films like this one, the very concept of Weird has been diluted by legions of Lynchian imitations. Grimm is billed as "a twisted and darkly comic fairy tale," but today's woods are crowded with obscure surrealist films that have little impact.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Supplements: Selected scene commentary and Exclusive interview with director Alex van Warmerdam; original artwork by van Warmerdam: Paitings and Poster work; Painting (1986): An Animated Short Film by Alex van Warmerdam
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 16, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson