Sunday, April 11, 2021

Nouchka van Brakel's A WOMAN LIKE EVE (1979) (Now Available From Cult Epics)



What in the hell was Monique van de Ven doing in Starsky and Hutch? After all, it had only been a few years since van de Ven's Oscar-worthy work in Paul Verhoeven's 
Turks Fruit (1973) and Keetje Tippel, so seeing her play opposite Antonio Fargas' Huggy Bear in "A Body Worth Guarding." was one of the oddest sights of the late seventies. 

Van de Ven had been on a television set before, but the Dutch miniseries Sil de strandjutter (1976) was a much more serious affair than an American cop show.  "A Body Worth Guarding" had not gone unnoticed back in van de Ven's home country. In a July 1978 edition, De Telegraph noted that the episode was a waste of time for a highly talented actress and "worthless" in general.  Starsky and Hutch would prove to be a most inauspicious American debut for Van de Ven, but a much more significant role awaited her back in The Netherlands as the seventies drew to a close.  


Starsky and Hutch had indeed been a 'worthless' step in van de Ven's noteworthy career and would prove a tragic foreshadowing of later attempts to breakthrough in the American market. Van de Ven had no way of predicting the future in 1978, but she knew scripts like "A Body Worth Guarding." were a waste of her considerable talents. Van de Ven's other roles in 1978 were thankfully much more exciting and included Brian Trenchard-Smith's Australian cult oddity Stunt Rock and Ate de Jong's Inheritance. They were fine films, but Van de Ven's passion project was a script she had on Starsky and Hutch's set. She would tell Algemeen Dagblad in July of 1978 that the script's title character had already wholly taken her over and cameras hadn't even begun rolling yet.






Van de Ven was reportedly so excited about the new project that she had turned down a major Hollywood film to make it. This would prove nearly disastrous when van de Ven discovered the film's writer and director had second thoughts about her casting as she was concerned the 26-year-old actress was too young for the role. A panicked van de Ven refused to be denied the part and persevered, even going so far as threatening legal action, as the film's producer had promised her the role.  


The plum role Monique van de Van refused to let slip away was as Eve in Een vrouw als Eva, the groundbreaking work from the pen of the film's director, Nouchka van Brakel. Telling the story of a lonely wife of an uncaring husband who falls in love with another woman, Een vrouw als Eva was poised to be one of the great films of the period, and van de Ven knew it.  


Born in the spring of 1940 in Amsterdam, Nouchka van Brakel had been a part of the exploding new Dutch film wave that had begun to take shape throughout the sixties. A fading photograph in a September 1963 issue of Het Parool, marking Cinestud - Amsterdam International Student Film Festival, showed a young Van Brakel pictured with a number of her peers who would help revolutionize Dutch cinema, including Pim de la Para and Wim Verstappen.  


Van Brakel had been around artists all of her life. Her parents were musicians who were as passionate about left-wing politics as art, and both would surround the young Van Brakel, although film and theater would spark her passion, not music. Inspired by her mother's feminist ideals, Van Brakel became the first-ever woman accepted to Nederlandse Filmacademie, the prestigious Netherlands Film Academy. Just as crucial to her blossoming career was the group she would host at her house, the influential Dutch Feminist organization, Dolle Mina.





Formally established in 1969, Dolle Mina's origins went back to pioneering Dutch Feminist Wilhelmina Drucker, who argued for women's equal rights throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. A key group of Feminism's second wave, Dolle Mina, was dedicated to equal pay, rights, and protections for women. The group's, at times, absurdist political acts and demonstrations not surprisingly attracted much press attention as the seventies dawned.     


De Volkskrant covered one of Dolle Mina's first significant demonstrations in January of 1970 at the men's only Nijenrode Castle. The paper noted the calamitous protest was a campaign "for equal rights for women."  Trouw would feature the event in a relatively long piece that featured quotes by Dolle Mina's representation:


"The man is still in charge. Only on election day are a husband and wife equal. A real emancipated woman is not the rule but an exception. This ruling is for the account of the action group 'De Dolle Mina,' which met yesterday afternoon in the Atheneum News Centre to inform the 'outside world' of the motives that led to its creation a month ago and its future activities. The organization, born out of a group of 'troubled girls,' currently has more than 40 members and believes that women in this society are continuing for the lesser part of the man, that she is not completely, evenly matched. 'Most girls have a worse education than the boys. After school, they become typists or waitresses or go into a store. They wait for a man to pick them out, and then they get married. And that's where she's waiting, the rut, which deprives her of any opportunity to develop her talents: "And when she goes to work, she pays more tax than he does. She earns less for the same job. The group advocates a change of mindset for both men and women so that 'they become aware that women have as many and equal rights as the man.' There will be a tough action, including "a call for a general cooking strike against oppression by men," an action for free nurseries, and an action for public toilets for women."


More demonstrations followed and more press coverage.  Het Parool summed up the group in the headline, "Doll Mina to Fight Against A Man's World." The article summed up the group's adventurous protest stylings:


"The emancipation of women will be dealt with considerably this year. Dolle Mina has had enough of petitions and pamphlets. Mad Mina's going out on the street to demand public urination right also for women. Dutch housewives are advised to hold a cooking strike tonight. Dutchmen should now feel that the female is against oppression. She no longer wants to play the slave that's ready for sir, who cooks for sir, who irons, sews, dishes for sir. Dolle Mina wants equality in 1970. The action group consisting of thirty housewives, young mothers, and students, assisted by ten men who share these ideas, took action yesterday. The Nijenrode training institute, which is only accessible to men, was stormed by Dolle Mina. It came to a slight collision, but eventually, a conversation was reached. Dolle then entered Mina Amsterdam to burn a corset at the statue of her patron Wilhelmina Drucker. This symbolized the elimination of oppression of women."


As the seventies began, Van Brakel became known for her Dolle Mina role. Het vrije volk featured her in a piece on the Feminist group just a few days after 1970 had begun. Van Brakel had been active in the Dutch film world throughout the sixties in various capacities, and her activities with the group would inform her film work. Her directorial career began with several short narrative and documentary films. Van Brakel's intelligence, love for cinema, and fiery left-wing politics made her one of the most fully-loaded filmmakers of the seventies. This would become especially apparent with the early seventies documentary she directed, Ouder Worden.   De tijd noted the film concerned "the division of roles imposed on boys and girls in primary school." It was a startling documentary, and Van Brakel talked about it to the Dutch paper:


"Women are victims of a complicated indoctrination process. Whether you are born as a boy or as a girl depends on chance. But the girls have to play their role as human beings differently from the boys. The simple fact that you have become a boy or a girl immediately robs you of a piece of freedom."



Ouder Worden garnered much attention for a short documentary and would help Van Brakel finance her first narrative feature. Finally, after more than fifteen years working in the Dutch film world, Van Brakel's first feature, Het debuut, appeared in 1977 to great acclaim and controversy. The film would introduce audiences to one of the most exciting young actresses of the period, Marina de Graaf, and solidified Van Brakel as one of the premier filmmakers in The Netherlands.  


Het Debuut became one of the most discussed Dutch films of the seventies, and it made a star out of de Graaf. The film's success paved the way for Van Brakel's equally ambitious follow-up, which she began scripting with the Dutch poet and fellow Dolle Mina's figure, Judith Hertzberg. The two defiant feminists would take a concept (inspired by a real-life court case) by fellow Dutch screenwriter Carol Donck and transform it into Een vrouw als Eva (A Woman Like Eve).  


While van de Ven was struggling to retain her lead role in A Woman Like Eve, Van Brakel began assembling what would turn into a most extraordinary cast. The choices included Peter Fabar as Eva's selfish husband, Ad, and the extraordinary Renée Soutendijk in a critical supporting role. Along with the title character, Eve's lover Liliane would be the most challenging part to cast, and the perfect actress turned out to be French, not Dutch.  


Parisian Maria Schneider had just turned twenty-five when the script for A Woman Like Eve was sent to her. The embattled Schneider was having a very rough time personally and professionally by 1978. The worldwide fame attached to her landmark role in Last Tango in Paris (1973) proved too much for the young woman, and she had increasingly turned to drugs and alcohol for relief. After working with Antonioni on his masterpiece The Passenger (1975), Schneider's choices became more militantly feminist and less commercial. Tinto Brass had just fired her from Caligula (1979) for refusing to appear nude in the film when A Woman Like Eve came her way. The role of Liliane would turn out to be amongst the finest of Maria Schneider's career, but her emotional problems were apparent on the set and onscreen. Fresh from rehab, a briefly sober Schneider was an exposed nerve on the set of A Woman Like Eve, but her performance ultimately made her casting worthwhile.    


Van Brakel recalled in 2020 that she and van de Ven had been friends, and she greatly admired the young actress. Her hesitancy in casting her only had to do with her age. She recalled arriving home from a scouting trip in Paris to find stacks and stacks of letters from fans pleading that she cast van de Ven in the role. Thankfully the two finally realized they could make it work, and Monique van de Ven's place as the title role in A Woman Like Eve was finally situated shortly before the film went into production. While the film's cast was the focus of much press attention, the near-all female crew was just as fascinating. For the film's cinematography, Van Brakel and producer Matthijs van Heijningen turned to another strong female, Palestinian-born Nurith Aviv. A future filmmaker in her own right, Aviv would be just one of several strong women working on A Woman Like Eve, including another future director working as the film's editor, Ine Schenkkan.  


One of the critical names working behind A Woman Like Eve's scenes was composer Laurens van Rooyen, who supplies the film with its remarkable soundtrack. It was one of two masterful scores van Rooyen would deliver in 1978, as his Mysteries appeared shortly after A Woman Like Eve. Van Rooyen's gorgeous score guides the film's emotional impact but is never intrusive or overwhelming.  


A Woman Like Eve's shooting was fraught with difficulty. Schneider was brilliant but challenging and a mess on the set. Van Brakel noted in 2020 that being "complicated and difficult" could be a positive and that it can make "someone special and exceptional." Van Brakel found Schneider a bit impenetrable and struggled with what she saw as compromised love scenes due to the actress, noting that the scenes in Blue Is The Warmest Color were more what she had in mind.  


Schneider's problems were minute compared to the day a radical lesbian group threatened the cast and crew during filming at an outdoor festival. Angry that van de Ven was cast because she wasn't a real-life lesbian, the group threatened Monica with violence and attempted to destroy the crew's camera. Van Brakel and Aviv were particularly hurt and shocked by the misguided protest. Van Brakel remembered in 2020 the sight of a raging Aviv screaming at the protesters that they were making the film about and for them.  


The rest of the shoot was thankfully calmer, and the film got tons of press attention, primarily thanks to the cast. Het Parool featured a full-page profile of Schneider discussing her drug abuse, emotional issues, and her recent rehab stint:





"Maria Schneider, born 26 years ago in Paris, her father is still a valued stage actor there, talks with little emotion about a period in her life that must have been very profound. In Italian boulevard magazines at that time, 1974, articles appeared that Maria had voluntarily been locked up in a psychiatric hospital with her friend. At the beginning of this year, persistent rumors that Maria had been hospitalized for narcotics in a clinic in Sweden to rest so that she could work with a complete commitment on the film A Woman like Eva, for which she has been in the Netherlands for several weeks now. The film will be made in Haarlem and the South of France. Maria stays in a large Amsterdam hotel until the beginning of September.


Now, after seven years, Maria Schneider says of the Last Tango period, 'It was hell. I was just 19 when Bertolucci picked me out of many girls for the role. I was a model and had played some minor roles in meaningless movies. I was incredibly naïve, without any experience. Exactly what Last Tango in Paris was about only dawned on me much later. Working with Marlon Brando was great, a fine man, never difficult. In fact, for me, the big blow came after the shoot, when the film was released. The reactions were really horrendous. I was called a whore, Marlon, a child molester. Whereas the movie wasn't about that at all. It was just a relationship between two people, like the one that flourishes almost daily in the world. I really freaked out about all those people who had an opinion of me. I just couldn't go out on the street without being harassed. 

Yesterday, director Nouchka van Brakel characterized the content of A Woman like Eva. Nouchka denied it will be a feminist film. 'I don't like stamps like that. It's just a movie made by women. The only important man is Eva's husband (Peter Faber). I even chose a woman for camera work (Nurith Ariv) because she has the same way of looking at things. Women usually look at certain situations less aggressively. Men jump on everything much more quickly. I know I'm generalizing now, and I'm not a man-hater. I'm not saying I'm sending a message with this movie; people have to see for themselves what they want to do with it." Monique van der Ven, who takes on the role of the approximately 35-year-old mother, was quite angry during the Amsterdam Central Station meeting about the stories about the argument she would have had with Nouchka van Brakel. 'We discussed the problems of that role very quietly. There was no argument. I feel very suitable for motherhood. It's very good with that role.'  


'How do you know about the clinics,' Maria asks in a soft voice when I ask about the background of all the stories published about her. 'I hardly ever give interviews; everything in the Italian magazines about me is a lie. In Sweden I stayed with a very good friend who has a farm. It's none of your business whether or not I've been in institutions, those are private matters, and I don't talk about that. It's just none of your business, and that's it. I'm not going to give you an explanation of what I'm doing. The only thing I got from Last Tango in Paris is that I was offered prominent roles and could make much money. From my role in Last Tango in Paris, I have earned almost nothing. Marlon Brando. got $20,000, and I got $2,000, while I had to work harder because I was more in the movie. I never took a role for the pennies. It's was to work with Michelangelo Antonioni. Together with him, I will make an extraordinary film in the future that I can't tell you about yet - because nothing is fixed yet. Oh, yes, why I'm in A Woman like Eva, that was the question. A few months ago, I worked on a movie where only women participated, apart from some unimportant male technicians. The woman who did the camera work also works for Nouchka van Brakel. That's how I got in touch with her. I'm not an outspoken feminist, but I enjoy working with women. I believe that women do many things, for example, making a movie. I liked the script Nouschka made me read. A 35-year-old woman who lives in a commune in France and begins an affair with a young girl. The story ends well. The two women decide to stay together and separate the oldest woman from her husband. Kind of a love story. 


This is the 20th movie I'm doing. I started at 16, so that would be two movies a year. But sometimes I don't work for a while. I lived in America for three years: I didn't do anything. I could afford it. I either work hard, or I rested. That's my way of life. I don't have my own house or anything. I've lived in hotels for ten years. Well, no, that's not boring. The advantage is that in the big hotels all rooms around the world are the same, so you don't notice where you are at some point. If the recordings last longer than a month, I usually rent an apartment or a house near the set. Gradually I start to feel the need for a place for myself. I've been planning to buy a home in the countryside in central France for a while. Sometimes a person has to come to his senses. Filming is a tough job where people are not taken into account. Some people have to fight for years to get recognition, and some are just thrown out. Take Marlon Brando; that man has been successful since he was 20. What's he got to lose? He's only acting for 101. With Jack Nicholson, it's very different. That's a complicated man. He often thinks he's not taken seriously, that they don't appreciate him as an actor. That's because he had to fight for recognition for twenty-five years.


In A Woman like Eva, I'm going to sing for the first time. That way you always learn something. I don't have any movie plans after A Woman like Eva. First, I go to Japan to record an advertising video about engines, and then I plan to take a course for sound engineer. I'm intrigued by the technical side of filming. In my spare time, I still photograph sometimes. So far, I've always played an independent young woman's role: A little confused sometimes. That's another aftermath of Last Tango in Paris. I want to get rid of that, but how, that's another question. With this role, I realize that I only build on that image."


Press coverage continued as the film's production wrapped. Most of the attention remained on Van Brakel and her two lead actresses, but actress/singer Marijke Merekens was also profiled in the pages of Het Parool, where she discussed the filming:


"It was a bit uncomfortable for me with the movie A Woman like Eva, which was not rehearsed. I also didn't get the script until three days before the recordings started. Nouchka van Brakel left us every freedom to do whatever we wanted. We weren't bound by the text either. I thought that was quite a dare; I missed something because I was used to a tight director's hand. But when I saw the movie, the result wasn't bad for me. You can't imagine how panicked I was when I went to watch. I didn't feel like I was working for a moment during the filming. It was like I was a little out of it. After all, we also had a serving task: we were there for Monique van de Ven, who is strongly central to the film. I don't mean that meanly. It's just like that. After all, the only interesting scene in my role, a scene with Peter Faber, wasn't shot. There is now no indication in the film of a growing contact between Peter and me. I'm sorry about that. Everything is about Eva. Nouchka van Brakel did not intend to make a lesbian or other typical "women's film." She is concerned with Eva's emancipation, about the woman who separates herself from her routine existence, thereby causing herself many difficulties, but persevering, finding herself, and finally becoming free. There's much love in A Woman like Eva. Nouchka does not do so for commercial reasons. She has great integrity. During the recordings, I constantly had a great admiration for the professionalism of Monique, Maria, and Peter."  





After well over a year of rumors and speculation, A Woman Like Eve was finally released in January 1979 to tempered acclaim. Leeuwarder courant called it an "excellently filmed story" and especially praised van de Ven's performance. NRC Handelsblad had problems with the film, and especially Schneider, but praised van de Ven and Renée Soutendijk. Algemeen Dagblad commended the cast and called it a decidedly "unadulterated Dutch film."


Van Brakel continued to defend and promote the film throughout 1979. Interviewed by De Volkskrant, she discussed the film and the difficulty of filming sex scenes:


"That's why I thought about Monique for a long time before I could decide: ok, we'll do it, the story is solid, and we need to be able to work it out together. And I have to say; I don't regret it. I think Monique did a great job.  


I see making love much more as something tender, something erotic and not so: boom, clothes off and making love • and that's it. I had only worked with children myself at the time, so I didn't have those problems there. For this film and The Debut, I had to do love scenes, and I have to say that I find it very difficult. I know what I don't want, but I find it very difficult to explain - especially with a whole crew of people around it.


I expected a little more support from Maria in this film, because she knows the situation of making love to women. But yes, it turned out that the ladies both had as much trouble with it as I did. So it's a pretty tricky situation. I tried not to do it in too much detail, but mainly to let the warmth between two women come across. Show that it is not scary, but very sweet, very warm, very tender, very close to each other. And I like that first love scene, the very first time Monique overcomes her embarrassment. I think that's very nicely filmed, too. I find the scene on the stairs, when they first hug each other, much more poignant, also much more erotic."




Viewed more than four decades after its release, A Woman Like Eve stands as one of the seventies' most groundbreaking and influential films. A trailblazing and tender work, A Woman Like Eve, has much in common with another of 1979's best, Robert Benton's Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979). Van Brakel's dramatic piece is one of the most critical chapters in the history of LGBTQ filmmaking. A beautifully realized, performed, directed, and written work, A Woman Like Eve is an important film. Its relatively unassuming and subdued quality makes it a truly transformative experience rare in the world of modern cinema. Van Brakel's film is a genuine masterpiece, on par with the great films centered on family and fractured relationships. Submitted but ultimately rejected for that year's best foreign film at The Academy Awards, A Woman Like Eve has gone unseen for years, making this new release from Cult Epics so genuinely noteworthy.  





Cult Epics' new special edition of A Woman Like Eve features the following specs:


New HD Transfer & Restoration (from original 35mm print)

Original LPCM 2.0 Mono track

New DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track

Interview with Nouchka van Brakel by journalist Floortje Smit at Eye Filmmuseum HD 2020 (40 Mins)

Theatrical Trailers


Some minor print damage doesn't distract from a terrific-looking and sounding presentation. The forty-minute chat with Van Brakel is terrifically informing, and the photo gallery is surprisingly moving. A Woman Like Eve is the first of three Van Brakel titles coming from Cult Epics, as The Debut and The Cool Lakes of Death will be released soon. More information on all three discs can be read here.



Jeremy Richey, 2021


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