Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Fourth Man

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

THE FOURTH MAN

7/10

(De Vierde Man)
Holland 1983
dir Paul Verhoeven
103 mins

Verhoevens last picture before he upped sticks to Hollywood is a real one-off: a wild, overcooked, heavily symbolic riff on Catholicism, creativity and premonition, a Dutch Dont Look Now played for giddy, gaudy laughs. Jeroen Krabbe is Gerard Reve (he shares his name with the author of the novel on which the movies based) a heavy-jowled, alcoholic novelist living in Amsterdam with his feckless, violin-playing boyfriend. The opening scene sees Gerard stirring to life after what we presume was an almighty bender, fantasising about strangling his lover with a black bra – were immediately warned that what were seeing shouldn’t necessarily be taken too literally, that were being made privy to Gerards processes of artistic composition.

The weird plot kicks off when Gerard is invited to the coastal town of Flushing to give a talk to a literary society. On the way, he cruises a muscular young man at the railway station. Arriving, he’s intrigued and unnerved by Christine, the Hitchcockian blonde treasurer of the society who films him with a super 8 movie camera. She invites him back to her place, a flat over the beauty salon she runs, and suggests he moves in. Initially reluctant, he changes his tune after realising Christine is seeing the young stud from the railway station, and inveigles her into inviting him for a visit. His plan works, but then finds out Christine has been married three times, and that each of the husbands died in mysterious, violent circumstances – who will be the fourth man?

Its a convoluted, extremely unlikely story, but Verhoeven keeps the audience gripped by going way over the top whenever the situation allows: bold colours, eye-popping fantasy sequences, a freewheeling atmosphere of dread and premonition, aided by Jan (Twister) de Bonts restless camerawork. Were never sure whether what were seeing is real or just the fruit of Gerards fevered imagination: everything seems to have a deeper meaning, everything is there for a purpose, fitting into a complex puzzle that points inexorably towards death. The Fourth Man is close kin to John Hustons Wise Blood and the writings of Flannery OConnor on which that movie was based: the results of sincere, though idiosyncratic, religious beliefs that seem baroque or fantastical to modern secular eyes. It isn’t giving away anything of the story to say that the Virgin Mary herself is an active, if peripheral, participant.

But the religious elements never detract from the prevailing Daughters of Darkness-ish tone of sinister jokiness. The home-movie footage of Christines husbands is borderline screwball – one of them ends up devoured by safari park lions. And Hermanns fate, while shockingly violent, is also hilariously excessive, the result of some of the most dangerous driving ever committed to celluloid – though Christine is, if anything, even worse behind the wheel. The endings a bit of a fizzle, but who cares? There are enough startling, thought-provoking things going on here to fill half a dozen ordinary pictures.

For an interview with the director Paul Verhoeven click here

by Neil Young