Monique van de Ven & Hannah de Leeuwe in “Keetje Tippel” [1975, Netherlands]

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Paul Verhoeven made “Keetje Tippel” [Eng. Title: A Girl called Katy Tippel] following his sensational “Turks Fruit“, and those who were expecting something on similar lines would have surely been disappointed.

The film explores extreme poverty in late 19th century Holland among the proletariat, and their exploitation by the well-to-do. Based on an autobiographical novel (by Neel Doff), it follows Katjee’s fortunes from the filthy tenement she shared with her parents and siblings, to her rise to high society upon marrying a wealthy man in Amsterdam. To call this film gritty would be an understatement – Mr. Verhoeven shoves raw realism in our face without constraints, but the manner in which it is directed establishes his dexterity in depicting difficult subjects elegantly whilst still remaining passionate. The cinematography in excellent and the performance by all the main actors impressive, particularly the actress portraying KeetjeMonique van de Ven – this is by far the best performance I’ve seen from her.

Keetje and family relocate to Amsterdam looking to better themselves, and move into a dirty, leaking single-room apartment – that’s all they could afford. With the father perennially unemployed, it is up to the children to earn a living. The eldest daughter Mina promptly takes up prostitution, with full knowledge of family. Keetje has morals – she wants to study, but because the family need money, takes up a job as a washerwoman. Unable to hold that job, she joins a shop selling clothing accessories, where she is one day raped and deflowered by the employer. She falls ill and a doctor comes forward to help, obviously in exchange for sexual favours. She returns home fully cured to find her family are worse off than ever, and even her sister Mina is fired for turning up to work drunk. The only way is to take up her sister’s profession, and shockingly the mother helps Keetje prepare for her streetwalking job. When an artist ‘discovers’ her, she starts moving among the right circles – bankers, land owners and so on, and her life changes for the better.

This is one of Paul Verhoeven’s classics, and therefore Highly Recommended Viewing.
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