❉ Cult Epics are once again flying the flag for pioneering Dutch cinema from the decade of sexual liberation.
“Monique van de Ven gives an affecting, empathetic and radiant performance as an ordinary woman who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances, meeting the challenges, conflicts and contradictions that confront her, with a mixture of naivety, innocence, curiosity, fragility, resilience, and above all open-heartedness”
A year ago, We Are Cult took a deep dive into the birth of the modern Dutch film industry, in the form of the ambitious, provocative world of Scorpio Films’ Pim de la Parra and Wim Verstappen as celebrated in Cult Epics’ labour-of-lust Blu-ray box set Scorpio Films: The Dutch Sex Wave Collection. ‘Pim & Wim’ single-handedly revitalised the previously moribund Dutch film industry (“There was nothing, nothing happening in the film field”, the pair stated), kickstarting the careers of actors Hugo Metsers, Willeke van Ammelrooy and Sylvia Kristel, as well as opening the door for film producers such as Rob Houwer, Rob du Mee and Matthijs van Heijinhen. Dutch Filmmaker Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers) credits Pim & Wim as an significant inspiration for his own successful career: “The significance of Scorpio in those years was that Holland learnt that Dutch films existed and were worth watching.”
Twelve months on, and Nico and the team at Cult Epics are once again flying the flag for pioneering Dutch cinema from the decade of sexual liberation with another addition to their catalogue of beautiful HD remasters on Blu-ray in the form of 1979’s lesbian love story A Woman Like Eve (Een vrouw als Eva). Based on a real-life news story, A Woman Like Eve’s main cast comprises Monique van de Ven, who made her screen debut alongside Rutger Hauer in Paul Verhoeven’s second feature film Turkish Delight, the fiery actor Peter Faber (best known for Soldier of Orange and A Bridge Too Far) and Maria Schneider, more of whom later.
Eve tells the story of a married woman, Eva (van de Ven), who leaves her husband Ads (Faber) and their two young children after meeting and falling in love with Liliana (Schneider), a free-spirited young bohemian who lives in a rural self-sufficiency commune. The stage is set for Eva’s battles to gain custody of her children while entering a new kind of relationship – with (gasp!) another woman, no less! – and the social stigma she encounters, having rejected her prescriptive role within a traditional heteronormative lifestyle in order to follow her heart’s desire.
Eve also portrays Eva’s own inner conflict as she attempts to negotiate a kind of liminal space where she can demonstrate to the courts that her breaking with convention has no bearing on her competency as mother while also building a new life with a lover who has little time for city life, much less being part of a nuclear family, in comparison to her rustic, communal lifestyle.
Dramatically, marital breakdowns and adultery are standard issue stock-in-trade tropes for every domestic soap opera under the sun, but it’s easy to forget that in the time period this is set, there was a huge amount of taboo and stigma surrounding a woman leaving her family and rejecting bourgeoise domesticity. To do so in order to enter into a same-sex relationship was even more of an affront to social norms, but many lesbian and bisexual women were indeed taking such steps as the rising visibility of Gay Liberation and the Women’s Movement in the 1970s empowered them to make these risky sacrifices to reclaim their authentic self. There were many women like Eve, but this movie was the first time they had been put on screen.
The film’s pioneering storyline saw it embraced by feminist and LGBT film festivals and it was nominated as the Dutch entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. In Images in the Dark: An Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video, Raymond Murray commends Eve as “an early European effort at depicting a positive portrayal of lesbians which was made by a production crew of primarily women.” (Titan Books, 1998)
The film has some serious feminist credentials, directed by feminist filmmaker Nouchka van Brakel, who wrote the screenplay with acclaimed Jewish writer Judith Herzberg. Maria Schneider was attracted to the film because it was written and directed by women, having endured humiliating experiences working for male filmmakers such as Antonioni and Bertolucci, most infamously while making Last Tango In Paris. The role was a natural fit for an openly bisexual woman who had enjoyed a bohemian lifestyle similar to Liliana’s while spending time living nomadically around Europe after being ostracised from Hollywood due to her erratic behaviour. I’ve a few misgivings with her performance but there’s no doubt she brings a raw earthiness to the screen that suits her character’s lifestyle.
As the titular character, Monique van de Ven gives an affecting, empathetic and radiant performance rooted in her character’s everydayness, as an ordinary woman who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances, and meets the challenges, conflicts and contradictions that confront her by going through emotions of naivety, innocence, curiosity, fragility, resilience, and above all open-heartedness, and it’s her performance that has most made this film linger in my thoughts.
Perhaps the only weak link the lead cast’s triad is Peter Faber as Eva’s husband Ads, whose high-octane performance defies the audience to feel more than the merest scintilla of sympathy for his plight as a husband and father whose world has been turned upside down. Much of this is in service to the script itself, as Ads is frequently written as obnoxious and misogynistic which doesn’t allow for much light and shade, but in the Blu-ray’s 2020 interview with director Nouchka van Brakel, she confesses that she was reluctant to ask Faber to dial down his histrionics as she was in awe of his explosiveness but would, in retrospect, have taken a firmer hand in directing him.
Van Brakel goes on to joke that the love scenes between Eva and Liliana are “not exactly Blue Is The Warmest Colour” and this is the most significant difference between this Cult Epics release and their Scorpio Films box set: Pim & Wim’s sex films are deliberately salacious and shamelessly exploitative, and very ‘male gaze’-y. Eva is a film about women, made by women, and scenes of intimacy are quite brief and relatively chaste. A topless sunbathing scene 15 minutes in is signposted as the first instance of Eva gingerly allowing herself to be more liberated, just prior to her first encounter with Liliana and while it may raise expectations of “Oh I see, it’s going to be that kind of film”, those expectations are soon dashed – but expect a whole lot of folk singing, turn-of-the-decade bobs and perms, and a lot of cycling (Well, it is set in Holland..).
In the same interview, van Brakel concedes that one aspect of A Woman Like Eve being a historical document is that the film’s pacing feels dated to modern eyes, quipping that its languid pace is a far cry from the constant smash-cuts of modern Hollywood blockbusters, while also making the point that she consciously opted for this pace to distinguish it from anything remotely resembling the testosterone-fuelled ‘biff bang pow’ of ‘films made by men for men’. As such it’s inarguable that that the film has a slow, occasionally soporific, pace, but this is a story told sensitively and unsensationally and wants you to spend time with these characters, particularly our protagonist as she gradually becomes aware of and tentatively begins to explore a new way of living and loving.
This is a first-class presentation from Cult Epics, admirably cementing A Woman Like Eve’s historical significance in gay cinema, by presenting it in a flawless HD transfer from the original 35mm print.
❉ ‘A Woman Like Eve’ is available on multi region Blu-Ray (Cult Epics Blu-ray Cat. no. CE176) from Cult Epics. 103 Mins / Dutch language with optional English subtitles. Click here to order.
❉ James Gent is the editor of pop culture webzine We Are Cult, and has previously contributed to volumes such such as 1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die, Blakes Heaven: Maximum Fan Power, You and 42: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Douglas Adams and Scarred For Life Volume Two: Television in the 1980s. He is the co-editor of Me And The Starman (Cult Ink), available to buy from Amazon, RRP £11.99. UK: https://amzn.to/30ZE8KE | US: bit.ly/starmanUSA ISBN: 9798664990546.