MUBI Podcast

Paul Verhoeven’s “Turkish Delight” ignites the Netherlands

June 03, 2021 MUBI Season 1 Episode 1
MUBI Podcast
Paul Verhoeven’s “Turkish Delight” ignites the Netherlands
Show Notes Transcript

To get a deeper idea of what makes his favorite country tick, Rico dives into Paul Verhoeven’s wild sophomore feature “Turkish Delight” — the biggest home-grown box office hit in the history of the Netherlands.  Featuring interviews with Verhoeven himself, cinematographer Jan de Bont, and star Monique Van De Ven.

Our first season, titled “Lost in Translation,” spotlights movies that were massive cultural phenomena in their home countries, but nowhere else. With episodes spanning nearly every continent, tune in weekly to discover unique film stories from around the globe.

Each episode, we publish a complementary piece in MUBI's online film magazine Notebook in a new series called “MUBI Podcast Expanded.” This week, Dutch film critic Dana Linssen builds on her commentary in this episode, sharing her personal connection to "Turkish Delight" while diving deep into ideas of toxic love and Dutch culture. Read the article here.

MUBI is a global streaming service, production company and film distributor. A place to discover and watch beautiful, interesting, incredible films. A new hand-picked film arrives on MUBI, every single day. From iconic directors, to emerging auteurs. All carefully chosen by MUBI’s curators.

[Rico Gagliano] Heads up. This episode contains adult themes, explicit language and, worst of all... spoilers. Let me take you back to November 1999. My first trip to the Netherlands. [Air Steward] Ladies and gentleman, we are watching Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and the local time is approximately 10.51 in the morning. [Lively instrumental music] At the time, I didn't know it was going to be one of my favorite places. I just had a friend who'd moved there, to the city of Amsterdam. And pretty much all I'd heard about Amsterdam is what most 20-somethings had heard about Amsterdam back in '99 - legal weed and prostitution. [Music continues] I imagined streets littered with hash pipes and condoms, pimps in alleys, steaming sewers. Basically, the movie Taxi Driver, that's what I was imagining. And, as a wannabe radio journalist, I figured I should record that experience. What I found was a city that was adorable. [Music stops, murmured conversation] [Rico] There were centuries-old cafes, where people sipped foamy beers out of tiny glasses... thin, old buildings where locals lived in small, neat apartments... outdoor markets with accordionists. [Live accordion music] Selling damn good chocolate. It was a city with more bikes than people, where cyclists like this guy ruled the cobblestone streets. [Man] Yeah, it keeps you fit, of course. And yeah, it's just... It is fun. [Rico] And the red light district, where you found most of the weed and sex workers, even that was bisected by lovely canals, with actual swans in them. [Music continues, man sings in Dutch] [Rico] Over the years, I went back and back and back. I filed stories about the place for NPR, wrote about it in the Wall Street Journal, repeatedly. And I came to see Dutch people as kind of like those swans. The red light district was mostly full of tourists. The natives were these composed creatures, okay with having a designated place where others could freak out, while they mainly glided by, unfazed, living their seemingly modest, low key lives. [Music concludes, murmured conversation] [Rico] Then, I saw the 1973 Dutch film Turkish Delight, which starts like a horror movie. [Tense music; Man exclaims] [Thumping, panting] [Rico] The hero fantasizing about committing a bloody double murder. [Gunshot] Then we follow him as he has random sex with strangers... [Man] Verdomme! [Rico] ..starts a little riot in a restaurant... [Man shouts in Dutch; Cutlery rattles, clamour] [Rico] ..gets picked up hitchhiking by a beautiful girl... [Man and woman converse in Dutch] [Rico] ..Pulls over with her and has more sex, after which, back on the road, they accidentally spin out. [Woman exclaims, tires screech] [Woman screams, crash] [Rico] And that's just the first 20 minutes. It's an insane whiplash of joy, death, sex - lots of sex - farce, melodrama, social satire, rage and tragic romance. [Man yells in Dutch] [Rico] And the low-key Dutch loved it so much, 47 years later, it's still one of the biggest-selling box office hits in the history of the country. Clearly, I had a lot to learn about that country. [Laidback instrumental guitar music] [Rico] I am arts and travel reporter Rico Gagliano and, from the curated streaming service MUBI, welcome to the MUBI Podcast. MUBI showcases beautiful, a lot of times mind-blowing movies from around the globe. On this new show, we're going to tell you the stories behind those films and any others with stories worth telling. This is the first season. We're calling it Lost In Translation and on every episode, we're gonna pick a film that was a gigantic cultural phenomenon in just one country. And then we're gonna dig into that country's history, its pop culture and the movie itself to find out...why? Why did this film fascinates so many people in this one place at this one time? What does it say about the country? And what kind of mark did the movie turn around and leave on the country? The goal is when we're done, and you watch these films, which I dearly hope you do, maybe these movies and these places will seem a little closer to home. So, let's do this. First up, the Netherlands and Turkish Delight. You have at least heard of this thing if you're a fan of director Paul Verhoeven or his star Rutger Hauer. It was the first major movie for both of them. But outside the Netherlands, that's it. That's mainly what it's known for - launching those guys' careers. Inside the Netherlands, it was named the best Dutch film of the 20th century. When it came out, a quarter of the population stood in line to see it. So, to find out more about it, I went to the source. We are going to speak with Dutch film scholars, Dutch critics and Verhoeven himself and the makers of this film about how it was made, and the very specific era it came from. [Monique van de Ven] I don't think it can ever be made again. We will never experience the freedom that we had then to make the film. The whole society has changed. [Rico Gagliano] So, stow away the wooden clogs and any other stereotypes while you're at it, because we're about to translate Turkish Delight. [Music continues] [Music concludes] [Rico] So, before we get to the movie Turkish Delight, first you got to understand the book it's based on and the Netherlands of the 1960s when it was written, and the guy who wrote it, an angry young man - well, at that point, actually, he was an angry 40-something-year-old man - named Jan Wolkers. [Sam Garrett] Jan Wolkers was well loved. He was a very, very, very popular man throughout his life in the Netherlands. Always someone who kicked against the pricks, always a rebellious figure, really. [Rico] That's Sam Garrett. For 40 years, he has lived in Holland, translating Dutch books into English, including some of Wolkers' books. [Sam Garrett] Wolkers started off as a visual artist. He quickly became quite famous for sculptures, for works that were hanging in public spaces, was recognized as a visual artist, and, at the same time, his autobiographical prose struck a chord. [Rico] Yeah, the Holland Wolkers started off writing about was not a land of weed shops. Like a lot of Dutchmen of his day, his parents were strict Reformed Calvinists. His small town of Oegstgeest was provincial and conservative and his early novels were basically about how much he hated all the above, [Sam Garrett] And an awful lot of Dutch people could relate to that and were all too pleased to see someone reacting to that sort of stifling atmosphere that they themselves knew through their home lives or their parents' home lives. [Rico] And some folks who could really relate to Wolkers were a group of young Dutch people, who called themselves Provos. [Spirited instrumental guitar music] [Rico] Short for provoceren, to provoke. It was a movement of Bohemians, activists and anarchists, one of Holland's first countercultures, and they were hell bent on getting Dutch people to loosen up society and make it freer and cooler, starting in the capital city of Amsterdam. [Jan de Bont] That's why I have such good memories of Amsterdam at the time, because it was a very influential movement and ultimately, it broke a lot of laws and broke a lot of rules. [Rico] That is Jan de Bont. He'd go on to direct American blockbusters like Speed and Twister, but in the mid '60s, he was a budding cinematographer, just graduated from the Netherlands' new Film Academy in Amsterdam. [Jan de Bont] There was a movement of the Provos that were trying to free everything in Amsterdam. For instance, they made the bicycles free, they bought a whole bunch of bicycles, painted them up white and everybody could use them, over the whole city. So, they wanted to make transportation free for everyone, so you didn't have to own a bike. [Rico] Provos were also partial to surreal acts of protest. In 1966, when the Dutch Princess Beatrix announced her engagement to a German, who not long before had been a member of the Hitler Youth, the Provos ruined the wedding ceremony, first by spreading crazy rumors, like that they were going to lace Amsterdam's water supply with LSD that day. The city called in 25,000 troops to guard the wedding parade. [Reporter] From town hall, the carriage goes to West Church for the religious ceremony and smoke bombs explode along the route. Police attribute the display to about 1,000 youngsters. [Rico] Yeah, that was the Provos. They disbanded the next year, but a lot of their revolutionary ideas had caught on. By '69, social change was everywhere in Dutch cities. And that's when Wolkers lobbed a bomb of his own, in the form of his fifth novel, a salute to the defiant lives of provocative young Bohemians and a middle finger aimed at the old Holland, all wrapped up in a love story. He called it...Turkish Delight. [Music concludes] [Sam Garrett] In Dutch, it's called Turks fruit. [Rico] Again, Sam Garrett. He did the English translation. [Sam Garrett] Based, to a certain extent on his life, loosely on his life. A quick synopsis of it really is, boy meets girl - Olga, her name is Olga - they fall in love the minute they lay eyes on each other, but her mother does everything in her power to drive a wedge between them. [Rico] The mom is bourgeois society - fake, status obsessed, disdainful of anything wild. The couple reject everything she stands for, reveling in art, sex and the animal side of life. But then, Olga seems to give in to her mom, the relationship dissolves in infidelity... [Sam Garrett] And our protagonist's heart is broken. He is an embittered man who seeks comfort in fleeting sexual relationships and really, in despair, trying to win her back, not succeeding and, finally - spoiler alert - Olga becomes fatally ill and dies. [Rico] And all the while, that unnamed protagonist, who's a sculptor, just like Wolkers, narrates every detail of the relationship - the sex, their bodily fluids, his grief, her death, in unflinching, first person detail. No apologies, no fear. [Sam Garrett] Very staccato, a lot of street language. Wolkers creates the impression that he is just sitting down and telling you the story, boom, right in your face. And that was, that was new. [Rico] The writer had nailed the anti-establishment zeitgeist and while the religious right hated it and some feminists did too, Jan de Bont remembers Turkish Delight became a Dutch sensation. [Jan de Bont] Personally, when I read the book, it kind of made me smile, I have to say. I remember laughing through it, because it was so wild. And I said, "Oh, my God, they're gonna forbid this book from being published, "so it's never going to be accepted." And of course what happened, and because it was so shocking, everybody wanted to read it. Both sides. So, it was a gigantic hit. It became the most successful book, I think, in the history of Holland. [Monique van de Ven] When I read the book for the first time, I was devastated. I just, I cried. I couldn't believe such a, you know, tragic love story. [Rico Gagliano] Monique van de Ven was 18 years old at the time, an aspiring actress, [Monique van de Ven] You know, I came from a very open-minded family and we could talk about it, but a lot of people in Holland at that time, didn't dare to tell people that they would read the book or, you know, they would go sneakily into a library. [Rico] Even though I know that it was extremely popular and a big hit, people still felt like they needed to kind of sneak around with it? [Monique van de Ven] Oh, absolutely. Like, parents would wrap it, you know, that people wouldn't recognize that they were reading the book. Yeah, it was... It was something, but I think Jan Wolkers really opened a lot of windows, you know, there was a lot of fresh air coming in into Holland. [Rico] For sure, Turkish Delight touched many people in the Netherlands. It still does. It's on the reading list in Dutch high schools. But it affected van de Ven and Jan de Bont more than most, thanks to a guy who'd bring them all together to make the movie version. [Paul Verhoeven] We are talking about Turkish Delight, isn't it, or not? Or Hollow Man, what is it? [Rico] Uh, Turkish Delight. [Paul Verhoeven] Okay, yeah. I thought so. [Rico] This winter, in the middle of Holland's Covid lockdown, I talked to him by phone. [Paul Verhoeven] Anyhow, my name is Paul Verhoeven, and I'm the director of a Dutch film called Turkish Delight. [Woman and man sing in Dutch, with piano accompaniment] [Rico] Paul Verhoeven had just one film under his belt at the time, a risqu comedy called Business Is Business, also based on a book and which also dealt with sexually adventurous outsiders who didn't give a damn about social norms. In this case, they were sex workers, one of whom chows down on a chocolate bar in the middle of an opera recital. [Singing continues, indistinct muttering] [Woman speaks in Dutch, singing continues] [People shush] [Man whispers in Dutch] [Rico] Her date tells her she should "behave", to which she says... [Woman speaks Dutch] [Rico] .."I wipe my ass with your behaving," and she stalks out. [Singing continues, clamouring] [Rico] Business Is Business was produced by a guy named Rob Houwer, who apparently thought it'd make sense for his next film with Verhoeven to be an adaptation of another provocative novel, that took anti-establishment attitude to a whole new level. He gave the director a copy of Turkish Delight and Verhoeven fell in love with it, he says for pretty straightforward reasons. [Paul Verhoeven] Because it's interesting. It's true. Because there's truth there. It's not based in things that were invented. The sexuality that he describes is not something that's a fantasy. It's all based on reality. It's very, very autobiographical. And, so, these things happened that way and, basically, what's more beautiful than getting an honest tale? [Rico] But Jan de Bont, who shot Business Is Business for Paul, says the director might have seen his own biography in Turkish Delight. [Jan de Bont] Paul Verhoeven is, he is from a Reformed background and this is his coming out of and his standing up towards that old-fashioned, restricted movement in sexuality, because treating sexuality as something so normal so common, so natural, that was unheard of. You know, how could you do those things and be shameless about it and accept it as it is? And not only that, enjoy it, as it is. [Paul Verhoeven] So, it was an adventure. I think, all the movies I made in my life, it was always curiosity, like, "Well, that's interesting. "Let's see if we can make it into a good movie." [Rico] To adapt Wolkers' book, Verhoeven signed on his core team from Business Is Business - de Bont would shoot it, screenwriter Gerard Soeteman wrote the script, giving the narrator a name, Eric. Now they just needed a couple of actors as carefree, as shameless, in a way, as the characters. [Man speaks Dutch] [Rico] Back then, Rutger Hauer was known for a single starring role, the title character on a Dutch TV show, called Floris. [Rutger Hauer] F-L-O-R-I-S. Floris. [Rico] It was aimed at little kids, and it was set in a milieu about as far removed as possible from 1970s Bohemia - medieval Holland, circa 1540 AD. [Man shouts in Dutch, stirring music] [Rico] He played a gallant knight. Verhoeven actually directed him in the series and his takeaway was that Rutger was pretty much the last guy he would ever cast as a brooding, sex-obsessed artist. [Paul Verhoeven] I could not see in him the character of the book. No. I saw basically, in the series, he's a, let's say, a man with a sword who was a little bit simplistic, naive, and whatever, a bit dumb. And I thought that was Rutger. [Rico] Producer Rob Houwer on the other hand, thought Rutger was good looking. And it didn't hurt that, thanks to Floris, he was also kind of popular. [Paul Verhoeven] And I said, "Yeah, but he cannot act that." And the producer insisted, insisted several times to at least do an audition with Rutger. And I didn't want to do that either, you know. I wanted other people. I tried 10, 20 other young Dutch actors. Finally, the producer convinced me and, in 20 minutes in the audition, it was like the switch of a moment, it was clear that the protagonist of the novel should be Rutger Hauer. [Rico] it wasn't just Hauer's acting that blew him away. It was also his chemistry, with now 19-year-old Monique van de Ven. Still in acting school without a credit to her name, she remembers being called in to help screen test the male actors. [Monique van de Ven] So, there was, like, no pressure on me. It was, you know, I just had to play the part of Olga. And I said, "Oh, sure, sure, sure." And Jan de Bont was the cameraman and he was shooting it on film and more and more, I saw him, you know, shooting me as well and, afterwards, I thought, "Oh!" And, a couple of weeks later, I got a phone call and, "This is the assistant of Rob Houwer, he is a producer," and she said, could I come to Amsterdam, at the Hotel American, to sign my contract. I said, "Sign my contract? Oh, for which part?" - And she's like... - [She snorts] You know, "Come on. Olga, of course." - [Rico chuckles] - [Monique van de Ven] And I'm, "What?" [Rico] They never told you that you were... that's who they were considering you for? [Monique van de Ven] No, no, no. Paul told me later. You know, they were all coming together, looking at the footage, and they couldn't believe it. And somebody, I don't know, maybe it was Jan Wolkers or Jan de Bont or Paul, I don't know, somebody said, "Why don't you take her?" [Rico] Yeah, Jan de Bont by the way, we've interviewed him, he says the latter, he says it was him. [Monique van de Ven] Oh, sure. Sure, he says. [Rico] I should probably note Monique and Jan de Bont later got married and, many years after that, amicably divorced. [Monique van de Ven] No, that's fun. Well, thank you, Jan. You made my career. [Jan de Bont] It was like a revelation. She was so natural and she was so perfect and so inexperienced. There was no acting involved and that is always the best, if you cannot see the acting. [Music - "Turks Fruit" by Toots Thielemans] [Rico] In a way, that became the ethos of the whole production. Wolkers' book felt wild, uninhibited, and it was kind of all about being authentic, true to yourself at any cost. So, everything about the movie had to be too, starting with the shooting style, [Jan de Bont] It wasn't ever about beautiful images. It was about basically documenting a lifestyle, a new lifestyle, that was exciting because of its freedom. So, the camera had to be free as well. The whole movie basically was filmed hand-held, which was, at the time, extremely difficult, because those cameras weigh a ton. [Paul Verhoeven] You have to realize that the film was made in a very loose style. You know, it was not rehearsing, rehearsing and then this and that. No, we do it... It was more like, "Let's do the scene." It was not storyboarded, not even in my head. We just shot it basically as I felt it. [Rico] Or in some cases, like the actors felt it. [Music continues, traffic noise] [Rico] There's a scene that would become iconic in Holland. While jazz great Toots Thielemans whistles away on the soundtrack, Eric joyfully drives Olga through Amsterdam on his bike, weaving through traffic and running cars off the road. [Man exclaims, woman speaks in Dutch] [Rico] Most of that...was improvised. And, by the way, shot without a permit. [Paul Verhoeven] Basically, that was us hiding behind cars with our camera and then giving a sign to Rutger and have him maneuver through the traffic, that was not organized in any way. He just went through the traffic and he did that in a very nonchalant and superhero kind of way. [Rico] Hauer also improvised the scene's punchline, when he drove the bike at top speed straight through the open front door of a random liquor joint. [Jan de Bont] It just happened to be there and Rutger decided he was gonna drive right into the store, liquor store. [Monique van de Ven] And you can see the reaction of the people that are walking in front of the door and Rutger just drives right through and these people are like, "Oh, my God." [Music continues, man exclaims] [Monique van de Ven] And then a liquor store guy, you know, was, like, "What the hell are you doing in my store with a bike?" [Jan de Bont] But the scene itself was very funny and as soon as we were done, we got the hell out of there. [Music continues] [Rico] Verhoeven pulled off these public stunts by keeping the crew small, mobile and tightly knit, which turns out also helped during the more, well, private scenes, set in Eric's apartment, which were shot in an atmosphere that would be just unimaginable on a modern movie set. [Monique van de Ven] We had this beautiful studio, artist's studio, in Amsterdam, and it became our house. I mean, you know, a house for everybody, the whole crew and the cast. And we were always there. And there was, like, complete freedom. You know, I didn't put on a bathrobe between takes, you know, No, I was just walking there. I mean... [Rico] Running around naked, seriously? [Monique van de Ven] Oh, easily, you know, but nobody looked at it or nobody thought it was weird. You know, it was very uninhibited. You know, all of Amsterdam was very free and open. And there were, you know, hardly any taboos. I mean, coming out of this bourgeois moral, we didn't want that any more and we just wanted to be free. And it was exactly the right timing, you know. It has a lot to do with the timing. [Instrumental guitar music] [Rico] Even so, when the film was finished, no-one quite knew what audiences would make of Turkish Delight. By '73, there'd already been serious Dutch films depicting sex. [Jan de Bont] But it was very unusual to see it approached in a non-staged way. And this movie feels like nothing is staged. It all feels like it just happened to happen and we happened to film it. [Rico] Also, yeah, Wolkers' novel had been a hit, but it was one thing to read his blunt descriptions of sex, defecation and death. To see it on screen seemed like a different animal. [Paul Verhoeven] It was, let's say, we were not sure that it would be accepted. I remember, even days before the premiere of the movie, I was talking to my editor, and we were both thinking, "Well, you know, I don't know. "I don't know what the people are going to say." [Rico] So, when the film finally opened, really nothing could have prepared them for the reaction. Turkish Delight explodes on the scene, coming up in just a minute. Stay with us. [Music continues] [Music concludes] [Rico] MUBI is a curated streaming service, production company and film distributor, a place to discover, discuss and celebrate beautiful cinema. Every day, MUBI premieres a new film, each one thoughtfully hand-picked by our team of curators. From brand-new work by emerging film-makers to masterpieces by cinema's greatest icons, there is always something new to uncover on this platform. And you should know that, alongside every episode of this podcast, our online film magazine Notebook will publish a complimentary piece as part of a series called MUBI Podcast Expanded. This week, Dutch film critic Dana Linssen builds on her commentary that you're going to hear later in this episode, sharing her personal connection to Turkish Delight and diving deep into ideas of toxic love and Dutch culture. So, finish this episode, then check out her piece on the Notebook at mubi.com/notebook. And, of course, to stream the best of cinema, simply head over to MUBI.com to start watching. [Instrumental guitar music] [Rico] All right, so the year is 1973, Turkish Delight is about to come out and Amsterdam, with its liberal attitudes and drug policies... [Music stops] ..has become the center of the counterculture universe. [Man speaks in Dutch] [Rico] This is a Dutch public TV news story from the era. In it, a reporter wanders a Pan Am departure gate in New York City, packed with hundreds of quote unquote, "hippie" types. [Man speaks Dutch] [Rico] One of them regales the crowd with a song. [Man] And nobody feels anything. [Rico] They are all on their way to Amsterdam. Upon arrival, one of them heads straight to the city's answer to Central Park, the Vondelpark, were tribes of kids from Holland and around the world have set up a makeshift village of tents and sleeping bags, sharing joints. [Woman] Yes. [Reporter] This is the famous Vondelpark. What do you think about it? [Woman] I think it's really nice. There's a lot of young people here. It's amazing. This is right in the city, isn't it? [Reporter] This is right in the middle of the city, yes. [Rico] In fact, in the early '70s, Amsterdam was such an attraction to the world's hippie types, airlines marketed flights directly at them. Pan Am's included macrobiotic meals and a live in-flight folk singer, Dutch airline KLM ran ads with the slogan, "Fly KLM, sleep in the Vondelpark." [Youth] Outside, I want to sleep outside. It's beautiful, in the sun, to wake up to the sunshine. To hear the birds. [Rico] So when Turkish Delight premiered in Amsterdam, at the Tuschinski Movie Palace, just a mile and a half from the Vondelpark, it maybe shouldn't have been a surprise this countercultural love story would get a hero's welcome. But...it was. [Jan de Bont] We were stunned when the movie came out. I mean, from day one, we went to the theater for the premiere, and there were, like, lines of people lined up to see the movie. We thought it was already sold out. They said they were waiting to buy tickets for the next and the next and the next show. [Monique van de Ven] I'd never been on a film set. I never had an opening night. And...I mean, the theater was crowded. [Projector whirs] The film starts... [Man exclaims; Thumping, panting] [Monique van de Ven] And, all of a sudden, you feel this... [She gasps] People, the whole audience was holding their breath. [Gunshot] You know, it was like... they couldn't, they couldn't believe it. [Jan de Bont] The audience was enjoying every damn moment of the movie, - everything. - [Man] Verdomme! [Jan de Bont] And they were laughing to each other, looking to each other, "Isn't this great?" [Man shouts in Dutch, clamouring] [Jan de Bont] It was the most, probably one of the best experiences I ever had in my life. [Monique van de Ven] And then, at the end of the film, you hear sobbing and people saying, "No, no, oh, my God! Oh, this is terrible!" [Projector clicks, winds down] And I walked out and there were lots of people congratulating me and... [She sighs] You know, I just didn't know what to think. [Rico] Neither did Paul Verhoeven, who tried not to get his hopes up. [Paul Verhoeven] It was an enormous applause, but on the movie I had made before, people were very happy too, at the premiere. [Rico] Turns out, it wasn't just the premiere. [Lively instrumental music] [Jan de Bont] You know, Tuschinski, which was the biggest theater in Amsterdam, That was sold out for many, many months. I kept going to the theater many times afterwards, and we could not believe how successful it was. The lines were still around the block. That had never happened before in Holland. [Music continues] [Rico] That scene repeated itself at theaters all over the country. Meanwhile, the soundtrack spent four months in the Dutch Top 50, peaking in the top 10, just below Pink Floyd's brand-new album, Dark Side of the Moon. For a lot of Dutchmen, Toots Thielemans' whistling still evokes Rutger Hauer's daredevil bike ride through Amsterdam. And, overnight, Monique van de Ven went from complete unknown to national icon. [Monique van de Ven] What striked me the most was when I was walking through Amsterdam and I saw outside hairdresser salons, they would put on a sign saying, "Would you like to have a Monique van de Ven look?" or, "We do Monique van de Ven looks." You know, so then I thought, "This is crazy. People are crazy." [Rico] The film sold over 3.3 million tickets in Holland, the most ever. It held that record for 25 years, until James Cameron's Titanic barely eked out 3.4 million. [Music continues] It was a big moment for Dutch film-making, because not only did no-one expect this movie to be a blockbuster, no-one expected any Dutch films to be blockbusters. The government mainly funded the Dutch film industry and it wasn't a big industry. [Jan de Bont] Up till then, maybe one or two movies a year was ever made in Holland, and they were never big hits, so we had an experience of not seeing very many successful Dutch movies. [Rico] He's exaggerating. Actually, in the early '70s, a whopping five features a year got made. But he's right, there was no reason to think a Dutch film would be a huge hit, at least not a fiction film. [Patricia Pisters] You know, feature films were not very, very prominent in the Netherlands before Turkish Delight. [Rico] Patricia Pisters is a Professor of Film Studies at the University of Amsterdam. [Patricia Pisters] Of course, they were made, but we were really known as a documentary film-making country. And we're still very much renowned for that. And that probably has to do with a Dutch matter of factness approach, where fantasy and imagination... It's not really... There are no science fiction films, for instance, still not in the Netherlands. The horror genre, just a little bit, not so much. So, the documentary school was big and important, but feature films, not so very important. [Rico] So, why did this feature film capture the Dutch imagination? Pisters says it wasn't just its ready-made audience of Young Turks. As unhinged as the movie is, it also kind of has that matter of fact attitude? [Patricia Pisters] I think what is really Dutch about the film, what I do recognize, is a sort of bluntness in addressing everything in the open, you know, and I think that is quite Dutch. Yeah, bluntness in the sense that you can just say what you think, whatever happens, you just say it. [Rico] Which, of course, is what Jan Wolkers and his writing were all about. It reminds me actually, and kind of weirdly, of one of my favorite Dutch words, their version of a doughnut, a ball of dough fried in oil, is called an oliebol, an oil ball. Because why would you call it anything else? Why wouldn't you just say it like it is? [Yul Brynner] Now, this is a most important award, simply because this year's Foreign Film is eligible for next year's Best Picture award. [Rico] Turkish Delight did pretty well overseas. In the US, it earned decent reviews, plus an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. [Yul Brynner] Turkish Delight, Netherlands. And the winner is France, for Day for Night. [Rico] And when it lost, it went the way of most Foreign Film nominees in America, fading into memory and later showing up on the occasional video store wall. In the Netherlands, of course, the movie's had a long life, but...a complicated one. [Dana Linssen] My name is Dana Linssen, and I'm a film critic for Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. [Rico] Dana Linssen was seven years old when Turkish Delight hit theaters. She didn't get around to seeing it till her early 20s. But she says, when she finally did, it felt like she'd seen it already. In Holland, that's how canonized it is. [Dana Linssen] So, at that time, there was nothing about the film that I found shocking or extraordinary. It was just a Dutch film. [Rico] Because it had so seeped into the culture, it was kind of like, "Oh, well, I've, you know, "I've been hearing about this my whole life." [Dana Linssen] Definitely. And growing up as a kind of a bookish person, avid reader, I'd already read the book, and I knew of the reputation. So, it's probably a little bit like growing up in Paris and never seeing the Eiffel Tower, but at the same time seeing it everywhere and knowing all about it. [Rico] It's the Eiffel Tower of Dutch film. [Dana Linssen] Well, no. When you say it's the Eiffel Tower of Dutch film, I have to add, "pun not intended", of course, because otherwise we're going all erotic in the first minutes of our conversation. [Rico] And while Linssen respects the movie, she actually says its take on eroticism, its sexual politics, are what give her some pause. [Dana Linssen] Because even Jan Wolkers' book is written from such a masculine perspective, and it's really objectifying the female characters in such a way that I think no writer nowadays could get away with. Something in defense of Paul Verhoeven is I think he adds a little irony to it. But, still, it's highly problematic the way Eric, when he's mourning Olga at the beginning of the film, is just using all these women to take revenge on her or forget her or get over his grief. And this you can all explain psychologically very well, but the end result is not so pretty. [Rico] It's not a new criticism. Some feminists picketed the film as soon as it hit theaters back in '73, for these exact reasons. Others actually celebrated it, for showing a woman enjoying sex as much as a man, without shame. I asked Linssen where she thinks modern Dutch viewers land. [Dana Linssen] I've been asking around, because I was actually curious. And I've been asking them the questions that I've been asking myself, like, "What about the sexual politics of the film?" "Is Eric a relatable hero? Is he likable?" Because, if you grow up with Rutger Hauer in the cinema, you sort of have a crush for life on him. So, it's really hard. No, it's really hard. And I'm sure there's many American actors that have the same effect on people. You just grow up with them. Rutger Hauer, for a while, was our only movie star, with Monique van de Ven. So, do I like it still? Yes. Do I find it problematic? Yes, even more so. Would I want to see it again? Now that we've been talking about it for a while? Yes, of course. But I'm pretty sure that this is not a film that someone would either... would want to make or could make. It's definitely not a contemporary film any more. [Rico] Monique van de Ven agrees Turkish Delight is a movie very much of its time. [Monique van de Ven] I don't think it can ever be made again. [Rico] But she's not talking about its sexual politics, so much as its '70s vision for society. One that was shared by the film-makers, and reflected even in the way they made the movie. It was a vision of a world that wasn't comfortable or safe, but it was without boundaries. [Monique van de Ven] We will never experience the freedom that we had then to make the film. I think the whole society has changed. I think we are much more...holding in. Which is really...sad. You know? [Instrumental guitar music] [Rico] If Turkish Delight isn't quite as life-changing for modern Dutch audiences, it definitely changed the lives of its creators. For Jan de Bont, it was the first step towards the shooting style he'd later use as a DP on American blockbusters, including this one you may have heard of, starring Bruce Willis. [Jan de Bont] Die Hard, the way that was filmed, also very free style, and being in the middle of the scene and giving access, incredible amount of freedom. You know what? It is all there in Turks fruit, there's no doubt about it. [Rico] Monique van de Ven also tried to leave to Hollywood, which didn't work out quite as well. But, back home in Holland, she starred in a 1986 film that finally did win Best Foreign Film. [Anthony Quinn] The winner is the Netherlands, for The Assault. [Rico] And Rutger Hauer, of course, went on to become maybe the most famous Dutch actor on Earth, right up until his death in 2019. I asked van de Ven about her chemistry with him back in '73. What made that spark between them on screen? [Monique van de Ven] He was very much in love with his girlfriend then, Ineke, and he stayed in love until he died, you know, for over 50 years. He just adored her and, at his memorial, I said, "You know, Rutger was so much in love with Ineke "that he projected that love onto me." [Music continues] [Music concludes] [Rico] As for Paul Verhoeven, you know what happened to his career. After a string of Dutch hits, he went on to direct blockbusters like RoboCop in the US, the Oscar nominated Elle in France, but, for over two decades, starting in '85, he stopped making films in the Netherlands. What happened? [Paul Verhoeven] All Dutch movies are subsidized, basically, by the government, for sometimes 50, 60, 70%. So, you needed that money and the people that basically distributed the money felt that the movies that I made were so, let's say, public friendly that it could not be serious. Like, if you make a successful movie, then it cannot be art. [Rico] So, Verhoeven, the anti-establishment artist, makes a movie about an anti-establishment artist that's such a hit he's eventually seen as the establishment and can't get films made. Maybe, sometimes, a cultural phenomenon can leave too much of a mark. [Instrumental guitar music] And that's the MUBI Podcast for this week. Thanks for joining us for this debut episode. Follow us to catch the rest of this season's deep dives into movies that became part of their home country's canon. We will be tackling one from almost every continent, in fact. Next week, the Bollywood romcom Indian audiences just can't seem to quit. [Anupama Chopra] Everybody knew that this was going to be massive, but I don't think anyone imagined it would be playing 25 years later. [Rico] This episode was hosted, written and cut by me, Rico Gagliano. Jackson Musker is our booking producer. Our engineer was Steven Coln. Martin Austwick composed and performed all the music, from garage rock to guzheng. Special thanks this week to Jonathan Groubert. The show's executive produced by me, along with Jon Barrenechea, Efe Cakarel Daniel Kasman and Michael Tacca for MUBI. If you're digging the show, please leave us a five-star review wherever you listen. It helps get the word out so others can find us. And if you want to tell us personally how great we are, our e-mail is [email protected] Why, thank you. Of course, for great indie, cult, arthouse and classic cinema from every era and around the planet, subscribe to MUBI at MUBI.com. Till next week, it's a big world, watch globally. [Music continues] [Music concludes]