"Keetje Tippel," now at the Inner Circle, is another batch of erotic kitsch from Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch filmmaker who left an unsightly calling card titled "Turkish Delight" a couple of years ago.
Verhoeven's method of juxtaposing extravagantly pretty, sharp-focus color cinematography with extravagantly ignorant and depraved characters produces sensations so peculiarly alienating that it's a wonder some critics haven't proclaimed him a genius. Perhaps he'll have to wait for Ken Russell's retirement.
"Keetje" is evidently a drastically foreshortened adaptation of a voluminous autobiographical novel by Neel Doff, who rose from poverty and prostitution to some kind of literary renown on the Continent before expiring in 1942 at age 82. The film is set in Amsterdam in the early 1880s and follows the upward mobility of a comely country wench, Keetje Oldeman (who or what "Tippel" is remains a mystery), who escapes her teeming, brutish family to become virtually everyone's love object.
The continuity is so congested that Keetje's slutty sister turns up looking like a seasoned prostitute the second day the family is in town. Her progress must have been a bit slower in the novel. This madcap compression results in an even funnier effect at the end, where Keetje leaves one socially prominent lover and picks up another one almost immediately by joining a political demonstration in the streets. Lucky girl, indeed.
Verhoeven gets so strapped for time that the movie doesn't really end; it just stops. Keetje accompanies her new beau to his palatial home to help nurse the wounds he has received agitating with the lower classes. Suddenly the frame freezes and a title informs us, "They got married." This is certainly one of the most abrupt and anticlimatic endings in movie history, but who's complaining?
One assumes that it's Verhoeven's one-track mind that makes the Dutch look like the most sexually depraved population on earth. His depictions of Dutch just are probably meant to be devastating, but their emphatic, cartoonish quality may strike outsiders as inadvertently funny, in the same way that a would-be poignant scene of Keetje's family burning their wooden shoes to keep warm looks inadvertently funny.