The first film screening in Dutch history took place in 1896. This was less than a year after the first private screening of projected motion pictures ever took place. This early, the Netherlands were already part of the film industry. Since then, the Netherlands have always played a role in the European film scene. And even, in time, managed to capture the hearts of the American public.
Because of the Dutch’s history, its cinema work often displays various historical events surrounding the Netherlands’ point of view. Such as the German occupied Netherlands during World War II. Another frequently used theme by Dutch filmmakers is eroticism, both hetero and homosexual orientated. This is due to the open mindedness of the Dutch. Where freedom of speech and self-expression have always been important.
However, Dutch cinema has more to offer than these particular themes. It has a wide range of different genres, from 80’s cult horror to black comedy. While some films here are highly appreciated worldwide, this essential film list will help you find some unexpected gems in Dutch cinema.
20. Flodder (Dick Maas, 1986)
When talking about Dutch cult classics, it is almost impossible to leave out Flodder. This comedy film has led to two sequels and a spin-off TV series.
It tells the story of a fictitious anti-social family called Flodder. They move, as part of a social experiment, to the luxury neighborhood of Zonnedeal. Where a welfare worker called Sjakie, wants to prove the change of their living environment will have a positive effect on the family. However, the rich people living there do not accept the Flodder family which leads to a lot of trouble.
The characters’ inappropriate use of language and the absurd way they behave makes this film, in any case, amusing.
19. Zusje / Little Sister (Robert Jan Westdijk, 1995)
This drama film was meant to be shot by the handy-cam of one of the main characters in the story, Martijn. He lives in London, but is in Amsterdam to visit his younger sister, Daantje. He does this because he wants to make a documentary about Daantje. However, there are a few unsolved issues which happened between them in the past. Gradually, it becomes clear how Martijn’s obsession for his younger sister has started.
Fans of VHS camera filming will definitely love Zusje. The storyline might sound disturbing, but the actors’ excellent performances makes this film worth watching.
18. De Vierde Man / The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983)
A suspense film based on the Dutch writer Gerard Reve’s novel with the same name. This was the last film Paul Verhoeven made before he left to establish himself in Hollywood, he would only came back to the Netherlands to make Zwartboek (Black Book) in 2006.
Reality and dreams are mixed up throughout this film, it has the themes of eroticism, biblical symbolism and lots of psychical tension. In the Netherlands, de Vierde Man did not attract as many audiences as Paul Verhoeven’s work normally does. However, in America, it has been the most successful Dutch film made by him. It was this film that made Paul Verhoeven famous in America.
De Vierde Man tells the story of Gerard Reve, a successful Dutch writer, who starts, even with his homosexual orientation, an affair with a woman named Christine. When he sees a picture of Christine’s boyfriend, he immediately falls in love with him. Staying with Christine to get in contact with her boyfriend seems like the best idea. However, he starts to get strange visions about Christine, which tells him that Christine cannot be trusted.
Verhoeven was inspired by the work of three famous directors. The suspense of Alfred Hitchcock, the surrealism of Luis Bunuel and the relationship between religion, psychology and dreams of Ingmar Bergman. This could be seen in De Vierde Man through the intense and gruesome dream scenes where blood and Catholicism are often seen. This surreal film is definitely worth your time.
17. Fanfare (Bert Haanstra, 1958)
Set in the Dutch village Giethoorn, this black-and-white comedy film is seen as a milestone in the Dutch film history. The music is composed by Jan Mul and played by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, which makes it truly outstanding. The film had an overall audience of 2.6 million, during some of the screenings, they even had to stop it because of the applause.
Fanfare is set in an imagined village called Lagerwiede, this village has an amazing fanfare called Kunst en Vriendschap. This group wants to take part in a competition and has a great chance to win. However, there is a fight between two members of the fanfare during the preparation for the competition. Hence the fanfare is split into two sides, both want to take part in the competition on their own.
The picturesque village where Fanfare is set makes this a stunning film. There has probably never been a film which represents a Dutch village better than Fanfare.
16. De Noorderlingen / The Northerners (Alex van Warmerdam, 1992)
This black comedy is set in an imagined Dutch town consisting of only one single street. De Noorderlingen tells the story of the people living in this particular street. According to Alex van Warmerdam himself, De Noorderlingen is the best film he has ever made.
Thomas, a young boy, lives with his parents. His mother is drawn into sainthood because of the high sexual drive of his abusive father. Due to this Thomas becomes more introverted and starts to believe in his own imaginary world. This world is based upon the events on the broadcast news about the liberation of the Belgian Congo.
Herein, Thomas thinks he is the new potential leader of Congo, called Lumumba. The postman, who reads the letters and therefore knows all the secrets of the neighborhood, encourages Thomas’ escapism. But then the village is visited by missionaries who brought an African man back from their journey to Africa. It is Thomas who tries to help this man.
Just like Alex van Warmerdam’s other work, this film is outstanding for its brilliant black humor and beautiful design.
15. Als Twee Druppels Water / Like two drops of Water (Fons Rademakers, 1963)
This stirring black-and-white film is based on the Dutch writer W.F Hermans’ novel called De Donkere Kamer van Damokles, in English known as The Dark Room of Damocles. Originally, Hermans would have written the screenplay on his own. However, according to director Rademakers, Hermans stuck to the opinion the book should be filmed as adequate as possible. Which would lead to a running time of eighteen hours. Therefore, Rademakers himself finished the screenplay and directed the film.
Als Twee Druppels Water is set in the Netherlands during the German occupation. The story is about a shopkeeper of a tobacco shop, Henri Ducker. When a parachutist called, on a mission as spy for the Allied Powers, called Dorbeck lands. It becomes clear that he looks exactly like Henri. By doing precisely what Dorbeck wants, Henri gives a meaning to his life. However, this could put him in many difficult situations.
The combination between action, drama and tension makes Als Twee Druppels Water a film you should see. The story is told in a captivating way, and is a visually stunning film.
14. Van God Los / Godforsaken (Pieter Kuijpers, 2003)
Van God Los is loosely based on the story of “De Bende Van Venlo”, literally translated as The Gang of Venlo. This gang, which consisted of eighteen men, was guilty of two hundred fifty offenses in 1997. Many of them were murder cases and they all happened in the province of Limburg, where all the members of the gang lived. Their stories have become a part of Dutch criminal history and therefore this film as well.
The story of Van God Los is both gruesome and pathetic. Stan is a student who lives in the boring Venlo. His father left him when he was a little boy and his mother is rather indifferent towards him. When he is finally given recognition from an elder criminal called Maikel , they start a solid friendship.
Stan joins Maikel in an armed raid and he begins to panic, which leads to the murder of their victim. This makes an impression on Maikel, which will renew Stan’s life completely. Causing a world where they don’t attach any importance to human beings, and the loss on reality and morals.
13. De Lift / The Lift (Dick Maas, 1983)
This 80’s cult horror film is about a particular transport system, an elevator. De Lift is the first Dutch film ever that was purchased, by the film studio Warner Brothers, for a worldwide release. All the scenes of this film were filmed on the first floor of an elevator manufacturers building, the walls and other props were often changed. Many of the scenes were recorded in reverse because the actors’ safety would otherwise be jeopardized. Clarifying that De Lift has some truly spectacular shots!
This film tells the story of an elevator functioning on its own, trapping people inside and harming them in strange ways. De Lift will appeal to average B horror movie fans.
There is an English-language remake released twenty-eight years after De Lift, which was directed and written by Dick Maas as well. This film is called The Shaft, also known as Down. However, this film is not well received and is mostly seen as poor comparison to De Lift in the Netherlands. De Lift is considered as one of the best Dutch horror films of all time and therefore a must see!
12. Wilde Mossels / Wild Mussels (Erik de Bruyn, 2000)
This beautiful surreal film is set in the village Bruinisse, in the province of Zeeland. All the actors in this film speak, therefore, Zeelandic, which is a regional spoken dialect. Wilde Mossels tells the story of Leen, Daan, and Jacob who try to find out what they want to do with their lives.
Daan sees himself still living in Bruinisse in the future, while Jacob wants to study somewhere outside of the village. However, Leen wants to do something completely different, as long as he leaves the depressing village. Especially when he meets a strange Irish man who tells him about Dublin.
Weird visions and the use of non-realistic colours make watching this film an extraordinary experience. Motorbikes, music and wild parties are used as relief for Leen, Daan and Jacob’s boring lives.
11. Ober / Waiter (Alex van Warmerdam, 2006)
Alex van Warmerdam is both the director and the leading man in this black comedy. It has an original storyline and brilliant conversations between the main character, the waiter, and the dinner guests.
Edgar (Alex van Warmerdam) is a fifty year old waiter in a sober restaurant with only a few costumers. His wife is chronically ill and stays home all the time, while Edgar has an affair with another woman. When his life gets even worse than before, Edgar literally goes to the writer of his story. From there on, things get stranger.
It’s an intelligent film, which asks for your attention, due to some difficult dialogues. In a way, this film will give you a different view on the world. Concerning the daily lives of those middle class people who are willing to be brought down and obey the will of the writer, as long as their one true desire will be fulfilled.