20 Essential Films For An Introduction To Dutch Cinema

10. Zwartboek / Black book (Paul Verhoeven, 2006)

Black book 2006

Zwartboek is the first film Verhoeven filmed in the Netherlands twenty years after his departure for Hollywood. When it was made, it was the most expensive film ever made in Dutch history and it became the Netherlands’ most commercially successful film. The Dutch public voted for Zwartboek as the best Dutch film ever. This film is much like Verhoeven’s other work, violent and breathtaking.

This film is set in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II. The house where Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), a Jewish singer, hides is burnt down . She becomes involved with a resistance group in The Hague. She has to infiltrate the Gestapo headquarters to help them and, thus, herself.

An exceptionally thrilling film with an amazing cast. You should take your time to watch this two hour plus film!


9. De Tweeling / Twin Sisters (Ben Sombogaart, 2002)

De Tweeling

A film adaptation of the Dutch writer Tessa de Loo’s book of the same name, which has been read by more than 3.5 million readers in the Netherlands and Germany. The fact is, the film is set partly in the Netherlands and partly Germany. 

The film tells the story of a twin sisters Lotte (Thekla Reuten) and Anna (Nadja Uhl), who are separated at a young age when their parents died. Anna stays in Germany and has to work hard for others, while Lotte lives in the Netherlands with a rather rich family. The World War II leads both of them in different directions. Anna falls in love and marries a SS soldier, while Lotte’s fiancé is killed in Auschwitz. Their lives have taken a different turn. But then, the two women accidentally meet each other fifty years later.

The fact that the roles of the twin sisters are played by four different actresses, from both the Netherlands and Germany, makes this film extraordinary.


8. De Aanslag / The Assualt (Fons Rademakers, 1986)

De Aanslag

Fons Rademakers had already made a couple of exceptional films before he made De Aanslag, which was the second to last film he would ever make. This film is an adaptation of a novel with the same name written by the Dutch writer Harry Mulisch. In 1986, De Aanslag was the first Dutch film to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

De Aanslag is set in the Netherlands during the German occupation in early 1945. During this war, the family of Anton Steenwijn (played by both Marc van Uchelen and Derek de Lint) is killed. The film portrays the life of Anton in which he starts to learn more about what actually happened at the night of the assault.

This film has a fascinating story set in a terrifying time period.


7. Antonia / Antonia’s Line (Marleen Gorris, 1995)


The dramatic film Antonia is often described as a “feminist fairy tale”, there is no better way to describe this film. The film uses many themes such as sex, death, religion and lesbian romance.

Antonia tells important episodes of four generation of women in a Dutch village. Especially, the tension between the women’s way of living and the narrow-minded men’s opinion towards this. Antonia could be seen as a feminist film, although some men are seen as rather positive in this film. These men are used as sperm donors for their children whom the women wish to bring up alone.

This film tells about the lives in the rural area and has some amazingly well-played roles. All these make this film definitely worth watching!


6. Turks Fruit / Turkish Delight (Paul Verhoeven, 1973)

Turks Fruit

In 1973, Turks Fruit was the most successful Dutch film ever with 3.5 million viewers and is still the most attended film in The Netherlands. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film that year. In 1999, it received the award for Best Dutch Film of the Century. It is based on a book written by Jan Wolkers, a Dutch writer, sculptor and painter.

Turks Fruit is both a romantic film and a tragedy. The film tells the story of Erik (Ruther Hauer), a young sculptor, who meets the love of his life, Olga (Monique van den Ven). They live together, marry each other and experience a romantic summer. Suddenly Olga leaves Erik and starts living with her parents again. After they divorce, Olga gets married to an American businessman, while Erik still wants her back. But then all of the sudden, Olga has to be taken to the hospital.

This is a memorable film in which a lot of scenes are the best known in the Dutch film history.


5. Abel (Alex van Warmerdam, 1986)

Abel 1986

This film was Alex van Warmerdam’s directional debut as well as his acting debut. First, he did not want to direct Abel, however, the script was too personal to be directed by anyone else. The film was originally planned to be in black and white, but there was advice against it, he chose to use color.

The film is set in an imagined Holland-like country in the 1950s. Abel is a 31 year old man living together with his parents in their house and has not walked out of it for over ten years. This annoys his father, but Abel gets spoiled by his mother and is protected. He spends most of his days cutting flies in half with a pair of scissors and spying on the neighbors. When his father gets angry, he kicks Abel out in the streets. Where Abel meets a girls who works at the peepshow, and who apparently knows his father.

A truly original and absurd comedy. This is one of the funniest Dutch films ever made.


4. Karakter / Character (Mike van Diem, 1997)


This tragic film is set in the Dutch city of Rotterdam in the 1920s. Based on a novel of the same name writtenby the Dutch writer F. Bordewijk, Karakter won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1998.

It tells the story of Jacob Willem Katadreuffe, a man who has done everything he could to become a lawyer. Karakter displays the life of Katadreuffe from his birth to adulthood, he goes through many let-downs to achieve success. Especially, because his mother does not want to take any money from his rich and dreaded father called Dreverhaven. Due to this, will his father thwart every plan made by his illegitimate child? When his father died it seems to be a murder case and Katadreuffe is considered as the murderer.

This is a suspense film with a top-notch cast and a complicated storyline.


3. Simon (Eddy Terstall, 2004)


Set in both the late 1980s and the early 2000s, Simon sketches an amazing image of Amsterdam neighborhood. It is special how this film has both funny and truly sorrowful moments. Simon deals with the liberties of the Dutch society, using themes as death and same sex marriage throughout the film.

Indeed, the title of this film is also the name of one of the main characters. Simon (Cees Geel) is a heterosexual hash dealer who starts a friendship with the shy homosexual dentist Camiel (Marcel Hensema). However, after a holiday in Thailand, the two of them seem to lose sight of each other. Twelve years later, when they accidentally meet each other again, Simon turns out to be terminally ill.

It might be thought that the chosen subjects Simon deals with make the film difficult to watch. However, there are enough amusing moments to make this film worth watching. Understandably, this film was the Netherlands’ official selection for the Best Foreign Language film category for the 2004 Academy Awards.


2. Soldaat van Oranje / Soldier of Orange (Paul Verhoeven, 1977)

Soldaat van Oranje

Soldaat van Oranje is a war themed film with a brilliant cast which include Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbé among others. The script of Soldaat van Oranje was written by Gerard Soeteman, it was him with whom Paul Verhoeven made the well-known Dutch television series Floris in 1968. The film is based on the autobiography of Erik Hazelhoff Roelzema, a Dutch resistance fighter. There is a Dutch musical with the same name which premiered on 30th October 2010 and is still performed often.

A group of students are living a carefree lives in the city of Leiden until World War II begins. They all try to adapt to the situation, which works for some better than others. The film tells the story of the different members of the students’ union of Leiden and how they experience the war.

Not only is the story of Soldaat van Oranje breathtaking, the music composed by Rogier van Otterloo works perfectly with the film. An excellent film about friendship and the harsh reality of war.


1. Spoorloos / The Vanishing (George Sluizer, 1988)

The Vanishing

Spoorloos is an adaptation of Het Gouden Ei, a Dutch book written by Tim Krabbé. George Sluizer called the English version of Spoorloos, “The Vanishing”, which was a reference, out of respect, of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Unaware of the fact that only a few months later, Kubrick would call him to say he had seen The Vanishing three times. He told Sluizer that it was the most terrifying film he had ever seen, even more terrifying than The Shining itself.

Spoorloos tells the frightening story of a young couple named Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna Ter Steege), who are on vacation in France. They stop at a petrol station during their drive, where Saskia is abducted by a stranger. After three years without any clue of Saskia’s disappearance, Rex begins to receive letters from the abductor.

The plot itself might sound like a frequently occurring event in thrillers, however, Spoorloos uses no special effects at all which makes this realistic film truly terrifying. And the viewer of this film will not only empathize with the miserable Rex, but will also experience the abductor’s side of the story.

In 1993, there is an American remake of Spoorloos, called again “The Vanishing” (starring Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland among others). However, the ending of the remake is different from the terrifying original version. Therefore, it would be well worth the effort to watch the original version instead of the terrible remake.

Author Bio: Iris van Melsen is a film and literature student at the University of Leiden. Not only does she love watching movies and writing about them, she writes, mostly in Dutch, short stories and poems. You can find her work here http://idothisthingcalledwriting.wordpress.com/.