Wilde Mossels (Wild Mussels)



Netherlands 2000
dir/scr Erik de Bruyn
cin Joost van Gelder
stars Fedja van Huet, Freek Brom, Frank Lammers
115-7 minutes

“Well, what do you think of it? Isn’t it the most beautiful negative landscape? Just see on the left of that pile of ashes they call a dune here, they grey dyke on the left, the livid beach at our feet, and, in front of us, the sea looking like a weak lye-solution with the vast sky reflecting the colourless waters. A flabby hell, indeed! Everything horizontal, no relief; space is colourless and life dead. Is it not universal obliteration, nothingness made visible?”

Albert Camus, The Fall, p54

Wilde Mossels is a small-scale drama of small-town inertia, pitting tantalising dreams of escape against the confining realities of everyday life. Our surly twentysomething hero Leen (van Huet) is stuck in a limbo zone between teen rebellion and adult disaffection, just as he’s geographically stranded in his home ‘town’, a sleepy fishing village on the chilly Dutch coast. The reclaimed flatlands stretch away into infinity, and Leen zooms towards the vast horizons astride his motorbike, helmetless, long hair flapping in the breeze.

It’s a bleakly scenic locale, brought to the screen via subdued palate of greys, greens and blues, but hardly a stimulating environment for the local youth, who ride their bikes to grotty rural shacks, drain endless cans of beer and mosh to deafening punk-metal bands. Bands like the very Dutch-sounding Nashville Pussy, their track ‘Go Motherfucker Go’ having special relevance for Leen as he struggles to cope with the increasingly amorous attentions of his lonely mother. A chance roadside encounter with a rambling Irishman (Martin Dunne in an irritating cameo) crystallises Leen’s disaffections into a single concrete goal – Dublin, “the greatest city in the world.” But getting away from home proves a tricky business. And wild mussels, despite their name, don’t really do anything particularly wild.

First-time director de Bruyn nimbly sketches in what William Burroughs called ‘stasis horrors,’ filming many scenes from above to emphasise how Leen and his friends are stuck in this colourless landscape where even the blades of the wind-farm mills stand idle. But as soon as the ‘mysterious’ Irishman appears, de Bruyn’s control over the movie starts to slip, not least because the Emerald Isle, with its chilly blue-green coasts, is an odd choice for an escaping Dutchman. The Irishman injects an unwelcome note of hallucinatory unease, which develops as we dip in and out of fantasy sequences – there’s a comic, bungled bank robbery halfway through that seems to have crept in from another film entirely. Though de Bruyn seems to be aiming for an update of Paul Verhoeven’s groundbreaking Dutch smash Spetters (1980), he lacks the bold vision needed to blend all these diverse elements – the bikes, the bands, the fishing, the incest – into a convincing cinematic whole.

He starts to run out of steam at around the hour mark, settling into increasingly conventional choices: the bracingly raucous punk-metal gives way firsy to dull sax jazz, then to soppy strings as the plot descends into the melodrama of two violent deaths and two tearful funerals. There’s a cheap predictability about what finally happens to Leen, a fatalistic posturing straight out of Easy Rider (he has the movie’s poster on his bedroom wall) by way of Rumble Fish. It’s a shame, as there’s a lot to like about Wilde Mossels, not least the committed, physical central performance from van Huet. But in the end both actor and film end up heading down cinematic dead ends, following the over-familiar path of doomed post-teen rebellion, the Harley-Davidson road to nowhere.

18th March, 2001