Humans. We, as a species, tend to be ruled by three things: the heart, the mind, and the loins. Lord help you when all three start arguing with each other. This is the root of the 1973 Dutch cult film, Pim de La Parra’s Frank & Eva. This fascinating hybrid of comedy, drama, and sexuality stars Hugo Metsers (Spetters, Dear Boys) and Willeke van Ammelrooy (The Lift, Antonia’s Line) as our titular lovers.
The film, much like its characters, is attractive, compelling, and absolutely dysfunctional as hell. When it comes to charming ladies men with a perpetual gleam in their eye, Frank is less Casanova and more like a male version of the batshit title character from Tinto Brass’ Monella. (She of the mass-flashings and maniacal laughter while peeing in the middle of a street fame.) He fakes suicide via a gunshot to the temple, plays billiards on the floor, drinks straight whiskey while driving, flicks his tongue at his passenger like a lascivious toddler-madman (in semi-defense, the passenger in question is a pre-Emmanuelle Sylvia Kristel in her film debut), sucks his thumb while saying “I am a baby” and has his hand go southbound on a random lady while his dear old friend has a coughing attack right in front of them. Though unlike Monella, whose insanity was fueled by sexual frustration and being (allegedly) a child of Lyssa, the Greek goddess of rabies, Frank is a man-child that is trying to shed as many adult-world responsibilities as he can.
The man rejects good decision making in such a fury that it positively tangos with self destruction. He drinks like his liver sodomized his entire family, spends money that Eva gave him to pay the electric bill on alcohol, almost rapes a single-mother who is friends with Eva, and quits his successful job as a car salesman. There is both ends burning and then there is spritzing the twin flames with high-grade lighter fluid. We’re never given any real glimpses into his past to help better understand him, but that’s okay. This isn’t that kind of film and audience-leg work is a good and healthy thing. It’s positive.
Then there’s Eva.
Our long-suffering and beautiful heroine, who spends much of the movie either (justifiably) angry at or charmed into slinking back into Frank’s arms and bed. Another true-to-life unpretty filter for the film is that Eva is neither a complete victim nor a shrew, but a complex human who is sane enough to see through Frank’s actions, but yet keeps going back to him. In the most inexplicable move, she stops taking her birth control pill and gets pregnant by Frank on purpose. Having a kid with the male Monella is a terrible idea, at best, but how many people have you known that have had children under some far from ideal circumstances? I know I’ve seen enough in my life to make me want to hand write thank you cards to the actual good parents out there.
This is the beautiful thing about Frank & Eva. The surface promises you a classic sexy Dutch film from the early 1970s, but the attitude towards sex is a lot more natural and honest than most of its American counterparts. We see scenes that are erotic, funny, and yes, even moments of genuinely bad sex. Just like real life! The nudity ratio is nearly even with the men and women, with Hugo Metsers being naked on screen more than possibly any of the women. American cinema NOW could take a lesson from films like Frank & Eva.
Love, much like depression and the Devil, can be a deceiver, which is appropriate, because anyone who has either witnessed or been in a negative, codependent relationship, will often go through depression and feel the dark chortling of the sulfur-hoofed one. ‘Cause the fact is, love and sex is in our biology and so is our residual damage from living. The teeter-totter effect that is witnessing romantic dysfunction, both in art and real life, is captivating in that way that seeing a skateboarder on the verge of tripping into a pavement that will quickly be splattered with fresh blood and bone fragment is. You’re gonna wince, look away, but then peek again because our DNA dictates, nay, demands to be compelled by the dodgy.
Director Pim de La Parra has made an entertaining slice of life with Frank & Eva, with the combined charisma and talent of his leads with Metsers and van Ammelrooy fleshing out this film with fresh talent and organic charisma. The fact that the film features a young and pre-fame Sylvia Kristel is one that was used post-Emmanuelle in advertising, naturally, but her role is small here, though quite memorable.
Amour Fou has been a common thread for romance-fueled stories for eons, ranging from the captivating (Betty Blue) to the airplane-glue-fueled-baffling (every manic pixie dream girl film and TV show ever), but the key element that sets Frank & Eva apart is that while there is decision making that often feels like Mars with a shroom-tinged veil on it, the real-life human dysfunction has legs thanks to the combination of crafter and players. Cult Epics has recently given this film a beautiful remaster and release, including a director’s commentary and a fun featurette entitled, “Up Front & Naked: Sex in Dutch Films.”
Frank & Eva is a good film and a fascinating work that reminds us that nothing in life is ever truly easy, especially when it comes to the heart and id.