Dokter Vlimmen (Guido Pieters, Netherlands, 1977)

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A dog gets knocked down by a car in the opening of this Dutch period drama. Not just any kind of dog either, it was a St. Bernard that was left whimpering in the road. Back in the ‘seventies, when St. Bernards were massive! Crude, but effective as a way of pulling at the heartstrings. It made me wonder for a moment about the validity of how they measure TV ratings. Do you count towards the official viewing figures if your view of the programme was blocked by a haze of tears?

Enough of whimsical diversions, this is about a country vet in the pre-war Netherlands. It immediately makes you think of the much-loved English TV equivalent “All Creatures Great and Small”, but despite the hero suffering similar indignities in farmyard mishaps this is altogether darker stuff. Our easy-going vet is a frequenter of brothels for instance – I don’t remember notorious waster Tristan Farnon visiting a house of ill repute even at his lowest ebb. It doesn’t shy away from showing actual animal slaughter either – even when it is totally unnecessary. The photography is dark and rich too, portraying an authentically damp and grimy countryside and verging towards noirish in the towns.

Dokter Vlimmen has a rival in Dokter Treeborg. He is established as the bad guy straight away. By owning a more expensive car, cultivating a moustache, and generally looking menacingly like an upper-class Englishman. A villain through and through. The plot unfolds via the workmanlike device of a court case. At this point a cynical viewer can give up on the story. On every occasion the liberal doctor will be shown, despite the odd personal failing, as effortlessly more intelligent, caring, open-minded, and just plain better-all-round than his conservative churchgoing fascist-scum counterpart. Oh, and he’ll be better at fighting too.

If filmmakers want to argue for the superiority of a liberal outlook it’s a shame they choose such illiberal ways of doing it. Example: to show what a really cool guy he is Dr. Vlimmen rescues a piglet from drowning in a muck pit by throwing himself in after it. It’s just a shame they had to nearly kill a real piglet in slurry to film the scene.

Like many pre-war dramas I found the atmosphere heavy and oppressive; perhaps this isn’t intentional. The people always seem stuffy and unlikable, and it just doesn’t feel like a pleasant world in which to live. Mixed with a hackneyed agitprop storyline I didn’t enjoy this at all.

 

Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/5

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