An interesting way to learn about a country, its values and its sense of humor is through its movies. At times it can be difficult to follow the rhythms, plotlines and the sentiments of characters in foreign films but, once you break through that barrier and open yourself up to different attitudes, a movie can teach you a lot about a country or a tiny little town within it. If you really want to challenge your open-mindedness and appreciation of foreign ideals, tastes and punch-lines, comedy might be a good genre to start with. When traveling to a different country, it’s always good to know what makes people laugh, right? To help you succeed in getting your exotic summer-fling to crack a smile at your jokes, we’ve come up with a special treat for you. We’ll be exploring the top ten comedies from all over the world to give you a taste of different countries and their sense of humor.
We’ll start this series with a country full of people who know how to laugh at themselves and find it hilarious to see films taking the piss out of typically Dutch clichés. Holland is a multi-cultural country and has become rather bold in portraying this in its films, especially in its comedies. Some of the films in this list were disputed due to their stereotypical presentation of minority or racial groups but, ultimately, these are dialogues and attitudes that reflect reality. It is films as such that seem to have had the most international appeal (Shouf Shouf Habibi, Het Schnitzelparadijs). But, as you will discover for yourself, this isn’t the only formula that has worked for Dutch cinema.
Get ready for some kooky characters, a lot of swearing and Dutch cinema’s finest troublemakers.
10. Minoes (Miss Minoes) (2001)
Minoes is a comedy film based on the children’s book written by Annie M.G Schmidt in 1970. It is the perfect example of how Dutch filmmakers know how to merge childish humor with adult issues, fit for the whole family to enjoy. The film opens in the nocturnal streets of the small town, Killendoorn. A mysterious wagon loaded with barrels containing chemicals creeps through the streets; one such barrel falls from the wagon and spills onto the road. A cat hiding behind a bush quietly observes the happenings. Next, we are introduced to Tibbe (Theo Maassen)—the worst journalist you’ll ever meet. He’s shy and insecure and usually doesn’t have the courage to follow the big stories, so he always ends up writing about the same thing: cats. His editors are tired of his articles and threaten to let him go unless he provides them with a good, newsworthy story. Frustrated, he makes his way home only to find a young lady in a green coat sitting in a tree. Tibbe immediately sees a story in this but, before he can react, she’s disappeared … only to show up on his window sill asking for some food and a warm place to sleep later on that night.
Her name is Minoes (Carice van Houten) and although she may appear to be a normal juffrouw (an old term for an unmarried young woman), she is in fact a cat. Yes, she walks on her hind-legs, but she still purrs like a kitten and she’ll never say no to a delicious snack of fish. Together with the “Cat Press,” she helps Tibbe source brilliant news stories that eventually turn him into the town’s hero.
9. Het Schnitzelparadijs (The Schnitzel Paradise) (2005)
Het Schnitzelparadijs truly celebrates Holland’s cultural diversity. Just take a look at the Dutch cuisine: Typical recipes aren’t all that appealing. There’s the Stamppot and of course a whole array of fried calorie-bombs you’ll get at any Friettent (snack bar): Frikandel, Kaassouffle and delicious, chunky Dutch fries with a generous helping of mayonnaise. (True story; I’ve seen ’em do it, man. They fuckin’ drown ’em in that shit.) But the real culinary pleasures come from all the different nationalities that have found a new home in Holland: Indonesian, Turkish, Moroccan and Surinamese dishes seem to be far more popular than Stamppot. The same way you have to consider all the different nationalities that make up the culinary platter of The Netherlands, you’ll have to note the various different backgrounds of people to highlight the Dutch cultural experience. Het Schnitzelparadijs does just that.
Nordip (Noah Valentyn) is a young Moroccan guy who goes against his parents’ wishes and decides to take on a job as a Sopkop (dishwasher) instead of becoming a librarian. The film follows his adventures working alongside a German ex-Yugoslavian, two constantly bickering Moroccans, a hard-rocking chef, a sadistic sous-chef, a well-meaning Turkish guy and the beautiful Agnes (Agnes Meerman) in the restaurant chain De Blauwe Gier.
8. Alles is liefde (Love is All) (2007)
The characters in Alles is liefde are all brought together by one of the most important men in Holland: Sinterklaas (Santa Claus). Every year, Sinterklaas makes his way from Spain to Holland on his stoomboot (steamboat) along with his helper Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) and presents for everyone. This is a big happening all around Holland and is of course televised. On one such occasion, the original Sinterklaas actor dies suddenly and an unknown Sinterklaas impersonator (Michiel Romeyn) takes his place. When a little girl falls into the canal during Sinterklaas’ great entrance, he saves her life and then mysteriously disappears. Kiki (Clarice van Houten) is a shop attendant at the Bijenkorf and a hopeless romantic who dreams of being swept away by a prince, preferably on a white horse. But it all happens the other way around. When the Bijkenkorf asks her to appear at the Sinterklaas event in a gift-package costume sat atop a white horse as part of a promotional campaign, her new four-legged friend charges towards the unsuspecting Prince Valentijn (Jeroen Spitzenberger).
It might sound like your typical cheesy rom-com—middle-class shop attendant meets prince and all that, but Kiki and Prince Valentijn are by no means the central focus of the story. We get to meet several more characters that are all (in)directly linked to people who happened to be at Sinterklaas’ arrival that day. Think the Dutch equivalent of Love Actually.
7. Aleen maar nette mensen (Only Decent People) (2012)
David (Geza Weisz) is in his mid-twenties and lives in the upper-class neighborhood of Amsterdam’s Oud-Zuid (Old South) with his extremely burgerlijk (bourgeois) Jewish parents. The thing is: he doesn’t really look Dutch. Thanks to his dark hair and eyes he is often mistaken to be Moroccan, and it’s starting to confuse him. He hasn’t really found his place in life yet and feels like everything has been arranged for him anyway. Plus, he doesn’t really feel attracted to Dutch women. His motto is “the bigger, the sweeter,” and he finds himself completely obsessed by the curves, daring outfits and unashamedly shaking billen (butts) of the Surinamese women in Amsterdam’s South-East Bijlmer hood (the so called Bjilmerbabes). When he meets twenty-three-year-old mother of two Rowanda, a charming, no-shit-taking Surinamese woman with mad curves and a rockin’ booty, his life is turned upside down. His family is far from impressed by his new relationship, and he’s having a hard time fitting in with Rowanda’s family. He seems torn between two cultures with one foot in the Dutch world and the other shakily trying to find firm ground in the Surinamese quarters of Bijlmer.
Based on the novel by Robert Vuijsje, this is a highly entertaining social study exploring interracial relationships and the inevitable culture clashes couples face. This is a sensitive topic, not only in the Netherlands but all around the world. Although Aleen maar nette mensen is clearly a comedy, it does approach certain issues with a serious angle. The movie caused for quite some controversy and was often referred to as being racist, sexist and fetishist. It also opened a discussion as to whether the Bijlmer neighborhood was portrayed realistically.
6. Aanmodderfakker (2014)
Thijs (Gijs Naber) is a 32-year-old man child with no real ambitions in life. He is what the Dutch call een eeuwige student, an eternal student who enrolls at university year after year without ever actually completing anything. You’d think a man of his age would be too proud to live off of hand-outs from his mother, but not Thijs. He gladly takes whatever he can get and tops it off with his earnings working part time at an electronics shop. His days are spent talking crap with his roommate, drinking and smoking, chasing the odd skirt and acting like he’s the man. He repeatedly tries to convince himself that he is content and that his life turned out exactly how he had imagined but, in reality, he’s just terrified of change. His sister tries to talk sense into him, telling him that if he keeps going on this way, he’ll end up to be a zachtgekookt ei (softly boiled egg) just like his father. But then he meets the babysitter of his sister’s kids, Lisa (Roos Wiltink). At only sixteen-years-old, Lisa knows exactly what she wants and how she plans to get there.
Aanmodderfakker deals with the rather cliché premise of the eternal man-child in a refreshingly funny manner. The film practically took over the Dutch Film Festival where Gijs Naber won Best Actor, Anne Barnhoorn went home with a Golden Calf for the Best Script and Michiel ten Horn’s directing was rewarded with Best Film.
5. Plan C (2012)
Let’s face it—the majority of movies starting out with an illegal poker game end up in complete chaos, if not violent madness. So does the 2012 hit Plan C by Mark Porcelijn. The only difference is, this one actually has a happy ending. Imagine that! Ronald (Ruben van der Meer) is a police investigator who can regularly be found in the seedy underbelly of Amsterdam’s illegal poker-houses. He tries to tell himself that it’s all just for the love of the game and does not want to accept that he might be addicted to gambling. He’s forced to reconsider when a gambling debt with Chinese mafia boss Hao puts his wife and son’s life in danger. He needs to cough up € 10,000 in order to get Hao off his back, so he comes up with a cunning plan: to rob the poker-house! Seeing as it is an illegal operation, he’s confident no one will involve the police following the robbery—a seemingly solid plan. He asks his friend Gerrit (René van ’t Hof) to do the job while Ronald attends the actual game in order to keep a clean alibi. But everything goes haywire when Gerrit involves his former brother-in-law, Bram (Ton Kas).
What makes this comedic thriller so funny is that for once Ruben van der Meer is not in the role of the funny man—which is what he’s usually famous for. Ruben is well-known for his show Hakkuhbar, a parody of the Gabber-scene. If you’re blanking on what the hell a “gabber” is, we discussed it in our list of movies inspired by rave culture.
4. Ja Zuster, Nee Zuster (Yes Nurse! No Nurse!) (2002)
The idea of ending up in a retirement home one day is pretty scary. Images of catatonic old ladies, drooling grandpas and grumpy nurses spring to mind. Unless you’ve seen the happy people at the Diana Isaac Retirement Village in Christchurch, New Zealand, that is. Or the Dutch musical comedy Ja Zuster, Nee Zuster. At the retirement home Klivia nothing is as you would expect. Run by Nurse Klivia, it seems like rest is the furthest thing on the mind of the residents—much to the chagrin of their Boze Buurman (angry neighbor), who also happens to be the owner of the residence. Despite his constant bickering about the rusthuis vol herrie (retirement home of riots), Zuster Klivia and its eccentric residents make the very best of their daily routines. Complete with a charmingly funny, heavy Groningen accent, this movie might convince you that your future in the retirement home doesn’t have to be all that grim.
Based on the 1966 Ja Zuster, Nee Zuster TV series, this film adaptation will transport many an aged Dutchman back in time. Get the DVD and you can enjoy a karaoke option and put your Dutch language skills to the ultimate test.
3. Shouf Shouf Habibi (Hush Hush Baby) (2004)
Ap (Mimoun Oa?ssa) has a choice: He could go back to Morocco where there is geen reet (fuck all) besides sand and stones and the romantic moon, or he can try to make it in Holland with the rest of his family. His older brother Sam (Najib Amhali) has successfully integrated into the Dutch culture and works as a police agent. His mother still has trouble adapting to the modern world of Holland, and unlike her children, she’s having a hard time picking up the language. The only thing she knows to say—to EVERYTHING—is isj goed (OK/that’s good). Ap says his mother is the only person he knows who has to take her glasses off in order to see things clearly. Sam hooks Ap up with an office job which he survives for exactly one day before deciding to join his friends in a bank robbery, which of course goes terribly wrong. Meanwhile, Ap’s little brother, Driss (Iliass Ojja), has made it his business to blackmail his sister, Leila (Touriya Haoud), whenever she sneaks out of the house; he has also learned how to make a buck threatening Moroccan girls in his school with pictures of them not wearing their hijab. Leila has a hard time being accepted by the Dutch crowd. On top of that, she lives in constant fear of being married off to a stranger. Ap and Driss are torn between adopting the Dutch culture as their own and abiding by the strict morals and values of their family, causing tension with Leila.
Shouf Shouf Habibi is a comedy that does not shy away from serious cultural issues. The cast is absolutely brilliant and the dialogue authentic. The Dutch-Moroccan comedian Najib Amhali is a true gem in the world of Dutch comedy—as soon as he opens his mouth, cheeky one-liners and impersonations are guaranteed. He is famous for his self-deprecating account of Moroccan culture. (While you’re at it, check out his beat-boxing skills)
2. Flodder (1986)
Believe it or not, in Holland there’s a family more famous than the Royal Oranje family: The Flodders. To this day, there’s not a kid who hasn’t heard of the infamously dysfunctional and at times disgusting Flodder family, led by the ever-smoking, dog-food-eating Ma Flodder (Nelly Frijda). The Flodders are what the Dutch would refer to as tuig (scum). When it becomes clear that their state-owned home is actually built atop a toxic waste site, their well-meaning, naïve social worker, Sjakie (Lou Landré), decides to move them into an abandoned villa in an upper-class residential area—much to the annoyance of their kakker (square) neighbors. Sjakie sees it as a sort of social experiment, thinking that a change in environment might change their overall attitudes and behaviors. But no such luck. Ma Flodder’s children (all from different fathers of course), the senile grandpa who has an obsession with trains and can always be seen in his wheelchair sporting a conductor outfit and a whistle and the family dog Whiskey are a true blight in the eyes of the neighborhood council, but getting them to leave seems pretty much impossible.
This was the first in a series of Flodder films which was followed by Flodder in Amerika (1992), Flodder 3 (1995) and a spin-off television series that ran from 1993 to 1998. The film clearly makes fun of the Dutch lower-class and class-bigotry in general. It was considered rather controversial at the time of its release but has now reached cult-status. It has become a real favorite in Germany and was even adapted for the Québec audience and translated into joual, a working-class Québec dialect.
1. New Kids Turbo (2010)
Tighty-whities, wife-beater shirts, butt-ugly ’80s style sweat suits, mullets, mustaches and golden bling: Ladies and gentleman, we present you the happy hardcore-blasting, beer-slurping hangjongeren (literally, youths who hang around) of Maaskantje in North Brabant, the New Kids (on the block). The series is the brain child of Steffen Haars and Flip van der Kuil, who also appear on the show/movies as Robbie Schuurmans and Barrie Butsers. The show became an Internet hit in 2007 with the first seven episodes attracting three million viewers. It follows a group of aggressive simpletons with a love for Schultenbräu beer and broodjes bakpao (bao). The New Kids are led by taekwondo black-belt Richard, who works as a park-keeper with Robbie. They spend their days wreaking havoc and driving around in Rikkert’s (Wesley van Gaalen) Opel Manta with the unemployed Barrie and Gerrie, who is constantly and unsuccessfully trying to prove his manhood. Most of their sentences end with the word kut (cunt). Spoken in a heavy North Brabant accent it even works when used appraisingly: “Da hedde gij goed gedaan kut!” (“Nicely done, cunt!”)
In New Kids Turbo, Richard, Barrie and the rest all find themselves unemployed. They blame it on the credit crisis but, in reality, it’s because they’re just a group of clumsy, anti-social twenty-somethings who place too much importance in being stoer (cool). Unable to finance themselves, they all move into Richard’s house until they are no longer able to live from their benefits. They decide to waltz into the unemployment office and demand more money. To their surprise, their request is denied, and they don’t take to the rejection all too kindly. Their unemployment benefits are stopped altogether. Out of protest, the New Kids no longer pay for … well, anything. Violence has never been an issue for Richard and crew, so getting past cops, bailiffs and other government institutions doesn’t seem too difficult for them. After attracting the attention of a journalist, they end up getting their own TV reality show. In no time, people start identifying with their cause and riots break out all over North Brabant. Maaskantje is threatened to be wiped off the map but as the New Kids will have you know – Niemand komt aan Maaskantje (No one touches Maaskantje).
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist, co-author of The Pink Boots and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Facebook. She likes getting creative in padm?sana.