by Boyd van Hoeij
- Hilarity and romance blossom in the most disgusting kitchen ever committed to celluloid
On the heels of the Dutch box-office success Shouf shouf habibi (the best visited home-grown film of 2004, sold to 30+ territories), arthouse director Martin Koolhoven grabs a big budget of his own and uses it to full effect in Het schnitzelparadijs [+see also:
film profile] (Schnitzel paradise), another multicultural laugh-out-loud fest. Koolhoven’s film has many similarities to Shouf, notably in the presence of comic wunderkind Mimoun Oaïssa, the star of Shouf who has a supporting role here. Where the film differs from its predecessor is in its decidedly romantic outlook; both in terms of its mainstream romantic comedy approach to its central romance and in its general outlook on the Dutch multicultural society; people may not always fit in, but in Het schnitzelparadijs "they lived happily ever after" nevertheless always seems to be just around the corner.
The main roles have been reserved for newcomer Mounir Valentyn (a real find) and up-and-coming actressBracha van Doesburgh (Vet hard), who star as a Romeo and Juliet-like couple without the horrible ending and with much worse catering. He is Nordip, a clever Moroccan-Dutch boy who sees nothing in his father’s idea of studying to become a doctor. Instead he starts working as a dishwasher in the kitchen of a hotel restaurant that is presented as a miniature version of Dutch society, complete with Moroccan, Turkish and Yugoslavian immigrants –some legal, others less so. She is Agnes, the future heiress of the hotel who works there as a waitress for the moment ("I have to start at the bottom.").
Their romance is made of nothing –a couple of quick and longing glances and then several trips to one of the hotel’s numerous bedrooms. It has all the innocence of true love as imagined by people who have never been in love and unlike Shouf it quickly strays from family film into teenage romance without much consideration of what a Western-style fling means for a boy who was brought up on Moroccan values. He seems to have absorbed the Dutch way of falling in love without questioning it for one second, most likely greatly aided by the indigenous points-of-view of director Martin Koolhoven and screenwriter Marco van Geffen (who adapted the homonymous novel by Dutch-Moroccan writer Khalid Boudou).
What makes Het Schnitzelparadijs work despite its overly simple love story is the pure chemistry between Valentyn and Van Doesburgh, two promising young thespians who send so many sparks flying that audiences will be glued to the screen. Add to that the hilarity of the goings-on in what must be the most disgusting kitchen ever committed to celluloid; its portrayal of the messy kitchen as a metaphor of Dutch society, where anarchy reigns but nevertheless there is hope for the intelligent and the romantic, is a perfect counter-balance to the sugary love affair.
Helmer Martin Koolhoven stays close to his characters with much handheld camera-work that follows the actors around and a lot of television-style semi-close-ups, though his exceptional use of depth betrays his cinematic eye. The uniformly excellent male supporting cast is frenetically kinetic, which offers a nice balance to the quieter waters of the central romance, thus keeping the proceedings at a brisk pace throughout. Abundant use of English-language pop songs and the obligatory montage-pieces set to them give the film a decidedly American flavour despite its typically Dutch setting. The hotel’s kitchen might not be a paradise for schnitzel-lovers; this film will certainly prove enjoyable for those with an appetite for a broad yet romantic comedy that offers a vision of a multicultural society seen through pink glasses.