Eric Vonk (Rutger Hauer) is an artist and sculptor lying in bed in his warehouse home and contemplating murdering his ex-wife Olga (Monique van de Ven) in a series of brutal ways - and her new husband, too. He still nurses a grudge about being dumped by her, and that is all to do with the fact he remains desperately in love with the woman and dearly wishes they could get back together. As he lies in bed turning his thoughts over in his mind, he remembers how they first met, as he had been quite the man about town, seizing every opportunity to bed as many young ladies as he could, never bothering about anything resembling a serious relationship. But then when he was hitchhiking, Olga picked him up...
Turkish Delight, or Turks Fruit as it was originally known, was a sensation in its native Netherlands on its initial release, and went on to international acclaim as well, one of the first Dutch films to win such an accolade, including a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. But while it was a cult film in foreign territories, back home it was a blockbuster, shaking up polite society and speaking to the generations emerging from the hippy years of the sixties trying to find their own voice, and was quickly judged to be a classic, a status it still retains there. It was drawn from the equally incendiary novel by Jan Wolkers, and that combination was a powerhouse of Dutch talent.
Especially as the director was Paul Verhoeven, years away from Robocop and Basic Instinct but exhibiting the strengths of his style that would see him right for the rest of his career: the sexual frankness, the almost bluntly in your face methods, the willingness to take on serious subjects in oddly playful, subversive ways. There was a serious subject to be tackled here, and the allusions many contemporary observers made to Love Story were well noted, but don't go thinking you would have a sensitive romance, or at least not a romance that downplayed the more corporeal factors that affected that kind of union, from the sexual to the inevitable physical decay that will break up the most loving bond.
At the beginning, we don't think Eric's bond with Olga would have lasted at all, not simply because we see him after they've split up, but because that spark of life they culture would appear to be one which shines brightly but too energetically to last. When the first ten minutes is taken up with Eric's one night (or one day) stands, he doesn't come across as a great prize for any woman who wants commitment, indeed he's quite obnoxious in his habits, which include keeping a scrapbook of souvenirs of his conquests, ranging from photographs of their nude bodies to clippings of their pubic hair. As the story draws on, we can understand this carnal side of him which dominates his days is an aspect of his artistic muse, where the body is his chief subject.
But it takes Olga to tame him, or rather tie him down emotionally, for they act together like giddy teenagers, flouting any rules and regulations and revelling in their rebellious behaviour, a perfect match that begins to grow on you when you recognise how sincere their affection is. Naturally this involved plenty of intimacy, but it was fitting what most would take care of in private was very public when we were privy to it, given the anything goes element of their characterisations. This headlong rush through a love affair sweeps you up if you can take the regular bouts of boundary-testing, from Eric examining Olga's stool to make sure she hasn't been internally bleeding, to him practically raping her as she sleeps when she finally rejects him, you're being dared to like both of them. It's that free spirit that finally endears them to you, and also the reason for Olga's lack of inhibitions as tragically different to her husband's, accepting that no matter how much you love someone, or for how long, there's always going to be something to throw a spanner in the works, eventually terminally. Music by Rogier van Otterloo.
Verhoeven's sharp sense of humour tempers his over-the-top style, but he frequently sails too close to being ridiculous for many to take him seriously. The war drama Black Book, filmed in his native Holland, raised his standing once more, and his black comedy thriller Elle won great acclaim for star Isabelle Huppert.