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Director Paul Verhoeven has a reputation as a cinematic provocateur. Read certain things about Spetters, and you might find yourself expecting more of that here, but Spetters plays as something different for the filmmaker: a serious attempt at a relatively naturalistic drama. For what would be his last film in the Netherlands before he took off for Hollywood, he tackles a slice-of-life story about three boys on the precipice of adulthood, adapted from a novel by Gerard Soeteman, and comes out looking mostly -- mostly -- good. While the film contains his penchant for raw sexuality (this Unrated cut includes some unsimulated sex acts), and one big transgression (we'll get to that at the end), this is relatively straightforward and unexpectedly low-key.
If there's a theme running through Spetters, it's people using each other as means to an end. From the first moment that Fientje sets eyes on Rien, she sees a ticket out of a smelly food truck she's stuck in with her brother. This necessitates getting rid of Maya (Marianne Boyer), Rien's instantly suspicious girlfriend. Fientje is the most traditionally Verhoeven-esque character in the movie, a brashly sexual blonde who has no qualms about using her body as a ticket out of her unsatisfying life. She seduces all three boys, one by one, moving on as each one's ability to help her improve her situation starts to wane. It would be easy to call the character reductively misogynistic, but there's sympathy in her desire for a better life, off the road, and Soutendijk plays the character with intelligence and wit.
Verhoeven extends even more sympathy to the young men, who are sometimes assholes but are mostly naive and full of arrogant energy. In an early, funny scene, Eef and Hans both find themselves unable to perform with their respective girlfriends one room apart, and all four teens fake loud orgasms to save face. Midway through the film, Hans is confronted with a life-changing turn of events, and the first scene between Rien and Fientje afterward is unexpectedly heart-wrenching and lonely. Van Tongeren is particularly good playing Rien's bitterness and regret as the film goes on, a bit of praise that seems bittersweet in the face of the actor's suicide shortly after the movie was completed. Meanwhile, Hans is a perpetual screw-up, a doofus who means well but can't do right to save his life, and Verhoeven puts Spanjer's droopy-dog face to great use, including his discovery that Witkamp and local reporter Frans (Jeroen Krabbe) have teamed up to embarrass him.
However, the one big issue with the movie is with Eef's story, which is no less sympathetic but executed in the worrst way possible. Eef is a closested gay man, a revelation that shines light on an early, discomforting scene where he embarrasses and assaults a gay couple minding their own business. The scene hangs in the air until Eef starts robbing gay sex workers for money to try and entice Fientje to choose him over his two friends. By then, the truth about him is in the air, but it culminates in a grotesque scene where he accepts his sexuality through a violent gang rape organized by Fientje's brother. Verhoeven tries to use armchair psychology to tie this self-discovery to Eef's abusive father, but there's no painting a gay awakening through sexual assault as anything but dreadfully wrongheaded.
Kino's fusion of two separate poster artworks for Spetters does not increase the film's batting average in terms of good home video covers. MGM's 2002 DVD was a lazy Photoshop job featuring a photo of Renee Soutendijk in front of Rutger Hauer and Maarten Spanjer on their bikes (both unrecognizable with their helmets on), and while this new cover uses vintage painted posters, it creates basically the same effect. The one-disc release comes in a thicker Vortex Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
For Spetters' Blu-ray debut, Kino has commissioned or acquired a brand new 4K remaster of the film, framed at 1.67:1 1080p AVC and accompanied by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. The results are quite impressive, with colors achieving a fresh vividness that makes the film look brand new, and offering fine detail that no doubt blows away previous home video incarnations. Film grain is nicely refined, present but hardly intrusive, and only minor flecks of print damage will be visible to eagle-eyed viewers. The 2.0 sound mix is less impressive, but still plenty serviceable, filling the soundscape with revving engines and featuring decent directional activity. Dialogue is crisp enough and the movie's synth-heavy score comes through very nicely. English subtitles are, of course, also included.
Owners of MGM's 2002 DVD edition can retire that disc, as the audio commentary by director Paul Verhoeven has been ported to Kino's Blu-ray edition. In addition, there is a photo gallery, and the film's original theatrical trailer.
Spetters is a largely compelling teen drama, one which shows Verhoeven stretching his dramatic muscles. The only sour note is a needless rape scene that throws the movie's intended sympathy out the window and muddles up Verhoeven's intentions. Fans should be pleased with Kino's sparkling 4K presentation, and the inclusion of the DVD's key extra is a nice bonus. With one big caveat, recommended.
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