By Fatma Ibrahim
The Netherlands-Flemish Institute screened two-time award winning film The Last Days of Emma Blank on Sunday, directed by one of the most favoured Dutch directors, Alex van Warmerdam. The movie was originally released in 2009, and is drenched with dark and absurd satire, which requires an open-minded audience in order to be able to extract the film’s intended meaning.
Emma Blank (played by Marlies Heuer) is dying of cancer, and she has a few days to live. She lives in her isolated seaside villa along with her servants. She is demanding, cold and pushes her servants beyond indignation. Not one of them actually bothers with the fact that she will die in a few days.
It is confusing at the beginning, because you do not know why they would put up with such a devilish attitude. Emma never smiles; she shouts all the time, and throws harsh comments at everyone. However, as the plot slowly reveals itself, we come to know that they are not really her servants; Emma has forced her own family to take on the roles of her servants and family pet. Her husband is the butler, Haneveld. Her daughter is the house cleaner, Gonnie. Her sister is the cook, Bella and the nephew is the gardener. And Theo, the man-dog? He is her older brother.
It does not take a lot to realise that they are all just in it for the potential inheritance, so when Emma reveals that all the money was lost in the stock crisis, this is when their ugly sides start to emerge. They take it on their shoulders to get back at her for the way she treated them.
The director was successful in shocking the audience with his dark comic scenes, portraying the atrocities that people can commit for the sake of money. The relationships between characters in the film are also a bit shocking and somehow off the norm. Haneveld is still married to Emma, but has a love relationship with the cook Bella, who is also her sister. Gonnie, Emma’s daughter and the house cleaner has an intermittent relationship with her cousin, Meier, although she does not really love him. The most absurd of all is Theo, the man-dog, who is Gonnie’s uncle, but wants her for himself.
The Last Days of Emma Blank won the Golden Calf award for Best Screenplay of a Feature Film and Label Europa Cinemas award, both received by Van Warmerdam in 2009. It was also nominated for Best Actor (Gene Bervoets) for the role of Haneveld, the butler, Best Production Design (Geert Paredis) and Best Supporting Actor (Alex Van Warmerdam) for the role of Theo, the man-dog.