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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Nouchka van Brakel's THE COOL LAKES OF DEATH on Blu-ray and DVD from CULT EPICS

At the turn of the last century, the growing city of Lawrence, Kansas, was still a relatively rural area located in the very center of The United States. Lawrence was suffering a bit of an identity crisis grappling with modern technology in 1909 when a new streetcar system made life a little easier for the town's residents. These included the staff and students of The University of Kanas, located in the heart of Lawrence. A melting pot of beliefs and ideals, Lawrence was a quintessential American city. Still, in the early Spring of 1909, the town was abuzz with news of visiting who had traveled nearly 5,000 miles from his European home to visit the town's University.  

The news that Dutch novelist Frederik van Eeden was planning on visiting Lawrence made headlines throughout the state. The Jeffersonian Gazette noted the event in their pages:

"Frederik van Eeden, a poet, dramatist, physician, sociologist, and lecturer, will be in Lawrence early in April to deliver a course of afternoon lectures at the University of Kansas. He will he here from April 1 to 7, and will speak on each school day at 4:30 0'clock in the afternoon in the college chapel, will give a chapel talk Friday morning of his visit here at 10 0'clock, and will give the Sunday afternoon vesper address at 4:30 0'clock on April 4. His subjects are such as "Treating Diseases by Mental Suggestion- "Happy Humanity," The "Religion and Business Mission of the Poet." 

Born in The Netherlands city of Haarlem in 1860, Frederik Willem van Eeden was by 1909 known as much for his work in psychiatry as his literary strides. Van Eeden was also a political livewire as he was a founding member of the world's first Communist political party, the Dutch Social-Democratic Party, in 1909. Van Eeden's unique American visit occurred less than a decade after one of his great novels had been granted an English translation as The Deeps of Deliverance.  

Initially rumored to be inspired by one of van Eeden's real-life patients, the dreamy and provocative Van de koele meren des doods originally appeared in 1900 in The Netherlands. Concerning the sad tale of death-obsessed and a sexually frustrated young woman coming of age in a brutally oppressive era for women named Hedwig Marga de Fontayne, Van de koele meren des doods dramatically positioned itself as one of the most progressive 20th century female-driven novels.  

Van Eeden's startling novel was hailed by both the literary community as well as the psychological one. The blossoming women's movement embraced and hailed the novel as a significant work, and it remains one of the great Feminist literary works written by a man.  The New York Tribune summed up the book's importance upon its American 1903 release:

"Here is another volume dealing with the eternal feminine, the minutest portrayal of a woman's inner consciousness, a dissecting knife laying bare a conflict between body and soul; a condition fostered by environment and augmented by a union contrary to natural law. The character of Hedwig de Fontayne, as shown by Van Eeden, is complex from its inception.

'The history of a woman's life,' writes Van Eeden of his book. ' 'how she sought the cool deeps wherein is deliverance, and how deliverance came to her.' But to what depths did she sink before bodily release brought her spiritual relief? Abased, exhausted, wrecked, there is that still left in her that craved salvation, emancipation from a weakness that held her in a thrall seemingly impossible to overthrow."

Van Eeden's novel was greeted with similarly heady reviews everywhere it appeared.  The Baltimore Sun called it one of the most "noteworthy" works of the period, while The New York Times praised van Eeden's ability to thrive in whatever field he chooses to write about. With his unforgettable character Hedwig, van Eeden managed to capture the often dark frustrations and the stark reality of being a woman at the turn of the 20th century. It was a remarkable work of literature steeped in realism that flirted with naturalistic elements.     

Van Eeden passed away in 1932.  Van de koele meren des doods continued to reappear in various translations in the decade after his death. Such an important work might have seemed an ideal vehicle for a filmed adaptation, but several barriers made it an exceedingly tricky prospect. The novel's decidedly adult themes ranging from sexual desire, repression, addiction, religious hypocrisy, and madness made any early film adaptation all but impossible. The novel's nocturnal digressions and how it dealt with time-related to a character's memories were incredibly cinematic. Still, it would take the perfect filmmaker to bring them to fruition. Perhaps the biggest obstacle for a possible filmed version of van Eeden's book was how relatable its themes of desire and repression would be. Van Eeden had written a period piece, but the beating Feminist heart at the center of Van de Koele Meren des Doods made it a dangerously timeless work that a male-dominated film industry had no interest in touching.  

It would take Van de Koele Meren des Doods (or The Cool Lakes Of Death as it is now most commonly known) more than eight decades before it finally became a film. With so many international translations, an adaptation could have appeared anywhere, so it was particularly pleasing to see a Dutch company finally option the property. The man who ultimately determined it was time to bring an 'unfilmable' novel to the big screen was famed Dutch producer Matthijs van Heijningen.

By the end of the seventies, van Heijningen had become known for his big-screen adaptations of popular novels. It was a successful pattern that had begun near the beginning of van Heijningen's career with his successful Tim Krabbe adaptation of Flanagan (1975). Three films, in particular, would be essential to The Cool Lakes of Death's ultimate release. The remarkable 1978 Knut Hamsun adaptation he had produced for director Paul de Lussanet, Mysteries, had failed to light up the Dutch box office. Still, it had shown that van Heijningen could successfully bring an 'unfilmable novel' to the theaters. Even more important were the two masterful films (The Debut and A Woman Like Eve) he had produced for the remarkable Feminist filmmaker Nouchka van Brakel.  

It is impossible to imagine a more perfect director for The Cool Lakes of Death than Nouchka van Brakel, but she was hesitant about how cumbersome the book would be to film. She finally agreed and drafted a breathtakingly great screenplay with Ton Vorstenbosch that managed to distill the novel's many themes down perfectly. Along with the adaptation itself, the trickiest part of bringing The Cool Lakes of Death to the big screen was finding the ideal actress to play the doomed Hedwig.  

The Dutch press was ablaze with the news of a big-screen adaptation of The Cool Lakes Of Death throughout 1981. Rumors swirled as to just who would end playing the plum role of Hedwig.  Het Parool noted at the very end of 1981 that a certain Dutch actress was in the possible running for the part:

"Sylvia Kristel has expressed her willingness to play the lead film in the film adaptation of "Van De Koele Meren Des Doods" by Frederik van Eeden, directed by Nouchka of Brakel The financing of this film is 40 percent by The First National Film Participation Company and there is money from the Netherlands Production Fund. Sylvia has proposed to participate financially in the project as well."

The Het Parool notice about Sylvia's possible involvement in the film was a solitary one. It was just one of many promising roles that didn't come to fruition in this period.  The Cool Lakes of Death appeared a year after Sylvia's final quality film of her most significant period, Lady Chatterley's Lover. In the wake of The Cool Lakes of Death's release, Sylvia was stuck in the English language film market, making the worst films of her career. Sylvia's struggles at the time mirrored Hedwig's in specific ways, so it is easy to see what attracted her to the role, but whether she could have pulled it off in her own increasingly fractured state remains a question lost to time. Sylvia and van Brakel had been friends since the dawn of her film career, and they would finally properly work together on van Brakel's De vriendschap (2001). The time wasn't right in 1982, and another actress emerged as the only real option for Hedwig.   

Renette Pauline Soutendijk had yet to turn twenty-five when she secured the role of Hedwig in The Cool Lakes of Death. A former gymnast and, unlike Sylvia, a professionally trained actress, Soutendijk had only been making films for a few years, but she had already clearly established herself as The Netherlands greatest young actress of the period. Wim Verstappen had 'discovered' her a few years previously for his masterpiece Pastorale 1943 (which featured Sylvia as well in one of her most significant roles). Soutendijk was crazy talented, and her rise was justifiably fast. After appearing in a small role in van Brakel's A Woman Like Eve, Soutendijk's career exploded with the double shot of Paul Verhoeven's Spetters (1980) and Ben Verbong's The Girl With The Red Hair (1981).  

Soutendijk is amongst the great screen actors and is a phenomenally gifted chameleon with a startling and even unnerving ability to disappear into whatever role she is playing. Like Sylvia, Soutendijk was later grossly misused in some English language productions. Still, her career in The Netherlands has been astonishing, and she earned a much deserved lifetime achievement Golden Calf in 2011, while just in her early fifties. Her Oscar-worthy performance as Hedwig remains perhaps the most remarkable performance of her career.  

The Cool Lakes of Death's expansive cast included popular actors Derek de Lint and Peter Faber, but the film belongs to Soutendijk, who dominates every frame. Behind the scenes, van Brakel assembled another reliable crew that included her partner Theo van de Sande working on the film's gorgeous cinematography.   Mysteries Production Designer Benedict Schillemans and multiple Golden Calf nominee Set Designer Harry Ammerlaan ensured the film's period setting was rendered perfectly.

Considering the material's dreamlike nature and epic scale, van Brakel's choice of an editor was vital. Edgar Burcksen would eventually find much success in American film and television, but his early editorial work in The Netherlands is superb, especially on The Cool Lakes Of Death. His cutting, along with van Brakel's wonderfully fluid directorial style, perfectly compliments The Cool Lakes of Death at every turn. It is a genuinely marvelous cinematic achievement.  

The making of The Cool Lakes Of Death was covered extensively in the Dutch press. One of the longest articles appeared in a mid-February 1982 edition of Het vrije volk. The article called van Brakel the "most successful film director in the Netherlands" and guessed correctly that the film would indeed be a "masterpiece." The paper marveled at how Soutendijk managed to "effortless" nail every scene perfectly no matter how many times it was filmed. Van Brakel praised her remarkable young star in the article:

"The dialogue comes directly from Van Eeden's book. At first, I doubted whether it was possible to use that old Dutch. But Renée pronounces those sentences like she's never spoken any other language. It's beautiful." 

Van Brakel noted that Hedwig was punished by her surroundings, and sadly, not much had changed for women by the early eighties. Stating that she was "primarily interested in the psychology of women," van Brakel was the absolute ideal artist to bring The Cool Lakes of Death to the big screen. The wait had been worth it.  

Van Brakel wanted her filmed adaptation of The Cool Lakes of Death to follow its source material as closely as possible. She admitted in the Het vrije volk that ideally, a 'mini-series would probably be the best way to adapt the epic book fully.  The Cool Lakes of Death needed to be seen on the big screen though, and van Brakel's screenplay was a masterpiece in its own right. Ultimately she admitted that "I make films about women, and I help women who want to do the same."

The Cool Lakes of Death was a massive undertaking.  Het vrije volk detailed just how complex the project was:

"The recordings take an unprecedented amount of time by Dutch standards, eight weeks. The number of locations used in this is enormous. Filming is also taking place in England, Belgium and France."

Van Brakel was up for the challenge. She told that Algemeen Dagblad, "This film is the most laborious I have made, but it gives you enormous satisfaction, especially because of the theme of the film. In addition, it is a great luxury that you can work with so many good actors and actresses."   She noted to the paper just how topical the story still was, "there are still many women who are subject to demands that they feel they cannot meet." Interviewed for the same article, Soutendijk mentioned, "It's a very emotional role. I always work strongly on intuition, but with this woman, it is often very complicated. Psychotic behavior, childbirth, morphine addiction, you can't get those things out of your own experience."  

Interviewed about Soutendijk's remarkable abilities as an actress in De Telegraph, Paul Verhoeven noted how amazing it was that she shot his legendary The 4th Man (1983) just three weeks after wrapping The Cool Lakes of Death:

"The audience will be baffled by Renee Soutendijk, who has not yet been seen in such a creation and who will now come across as a completely different woman. She has every opportunity to make a great foreign career. And the way she's doing this role right now, and you look at those eyelids from underneath, she looks like Marine Dietrich." 

Another lengthy piece appeared in NRC Handelsblad. Van Brakel noted:

"I see a victim of the circumstances in Hedwig. At the end of her life, she finds a way to shape her existence a little and not go into complete destruction. After a film about a young woman choosing a man who is a lot older (The Debut) and one about a woman who chooses lesbian love, I wanted to make a film about a woman who, and that is also taboo, is deeply concerned with death."  

Soutendijk discussed the role and her career further with Algemeen Dagblad:

"There are a few people in America who are very enthusiastic about me. Although, enthusiasm is still weakly expressed. I've had 40 meetings and spoken to about 70 people. A strange country, by the way, that America. They are very cordial and common, and at the same time, you feel that they are only interested in you when you can possibly raise money. In the Netherlands, being commercial is a very dirty swear word. For me, Van de koele meren de dood has been a project with a lot of risks because of all the unknown things. I think some things worked out very well, some things didn't, but then I'll be the only one who feels that way. In short, I jumped all the way in, I always do, and at least I tried to do my job as well as I could. It's been hard, but I have loved being a part of it, and I don't regret anything." 

A Woman Like Eve and The Debut had been out of the gate masterpieces from van Brakel, but The Cool Lakes of Death is on another level altogether. It is an elegant, refined, and beautifully realized motion picture on par with the great films of the post-war era. Watching The Cool Lakes of Death, now restored nearly forty years after its release, the film towers above almost any other period film from the period. Compare it to say the Merchant-Ivory productions of the period to see just how deeply daring, distinctive and intelligent The Cool Lakes of Death is. 

With The Cool Lakes Of Death, van Brakel and her talented cast and crew managed to make a unique work in the realm of modern cinema, a rarer and rare occurrence with each passing year. There are certain connections. Van Brakel's film at times recalls Truffaut's astonishing The Story of Adele H. (1975), another film centering on cruelty and madness that Sylvia Kristel was coincidentally also in consideration for. Then, of course, Polanski's remarkable adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess (1979) also shares several stylistic and thematic themes with van Brakel's film. Commonalities aside, The Cool Lakes of Death stands as one of the most idiosyncratic films of the eighties and one of the final great European art films of cinema's last golden age.    

The Cool Lakes of Death received much acclaim upon its release and was submitted for Best Foreign Film at The Oscars, but it did not get the worldwide release it deserved. The film would have been an ideal candidate for The Criterion Collection, which has routinely ignored Dutch cinema in a profoundly disturbing way since its inception in the late eighties. Instead, it has gone nearly wholly unseen outside of The Netherlands for decades. After all, Criterion has had Wes Anderson and Michael Bay films to add to their collection.

The Cool Lakes of Death was a challenging shoot. Budgetary problems between van Brakel and van Heijningen caused issues, and the lengthy filming schedule was unbelievably stressful. The hard work was more than worth it in the end.  Algemeen Dagblad summed up the film calling it a 'Beautiful triumph" while De Volkskrant hailed the acting and again noted how jaw-droppingly lovely the movie was.  Limburgsch dagblad hailed Soutendijk's performance and again praised the film's remarkable visual appeal. 

Cult Epics' new Blu-ray and DVD release of The Cool Lakes of Death indeed serves that great visual appeal exceedingly well. The new 4K transfer is marvelous, and the film is presented completely uncut and restored. Extras include a vintage Polygood newsreel featuring the film's reception at The Netherlands Film Festival. A terrific photo gallery is also included, and the trailer. A bit of Erik Van Der Wurff's haunting score can be heard as well. The entire soundtrack from The Netherlands Harlekijn label badly deserves a re-release. 

Van Brakel would reunite with both Soutendijk and her Woman Like Eve star Monique van de Ven on her next feature-length film, Een maand later (1987), and she remains amongst the most incredible living filmmakers on the planet. These new Cult Epics discs, along with the upcoming Van Brakel box-set, are landmark home video releases restoring the great works from one of cinema's most distinctive voices. I cannot recommend them higher.

Jeremy Richey, 2021

Nouchka van Brakel's The Cool Lakes of Death HD Trailer from Cult Epics on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Nouchka van Brakel's HET DEBUUT (THE DEBUT) on Blu-ray and DVD from CULT EPICS

Nouchka van Brakel's

Published initially in 1975 by Dutch publisher Peter Loeb, Het debuut served as the startling introduction to Amsterdam-born authoroess Hester Albach. Told from the point of view of a teenage girl who is having an affair with a middle-aged man, Het debuut proved a controversial literary sensation upon its release. Barely out of her teens herself in 1975, Albach was just as sensational as her first novel and was profiled in numerous pieces by the Dutch press.  NRC Handelsblad praised Albach's prose as "often witty, rarely dramatic" and championed her "bold" use of language.  

Interviewed around Het debuut's release by Leeuwarder Courant, Peter Loeb described himself as the youngest independe

nt publisher in The Netherlands. At only twenty years old, the statement was probably an extremely accurate one. Loeb already had several books in his publication house arsenal when he agreed to publish Albach's first novel, but none had garnered as much attention as Het debuut.  

Stories of illicit romances are as old as art itself, but Albach's decidedly feminist perspective made Het debuut quite unlike any other similar literary work. Not surprisingly, comparisons to Nabokov's Lolita were rampant. The NRC Handelsblad piece even titled their profile piece on Albach, "Lolita Tells." The talented young Arbach couldn't get away from the comparison, but it didn't affect Het debuut's success.  Het Parool praised Albach as a significant new literary talent with a knack for heartfelt "honest reporting" about subject matter most authors wouldn't dare touch. Their only real complaint about the book was its brevity of less than a hundred pages.  

Het Parool would also feature an interview with Albach in which she discussed some of her fears writing such a daring book. Stating that she didn't want Het debuut to be known just as a "female book," Albach recalled she wrote the book in a deliberately "fast and hard" style. She also humorously noted with wild teenage confidence that her main goal was to write "the novel of the century." The most notable news that came out of the interview was Albach's hope that a young feminist aspiring Dutch filmmaker would adapt the book into her first feature-length movie.  

Nieuwsblad van het Noorden would also report the news of the film during a lengthy interview with Albach, where she discussed the creation of the book further:

"Hester, introduced at the age of sixteen in the Amsterdam "De Kring" and no stranger to the capital artist world, came into contact with the young publisher Peter Loeb through Hans Sleutelaar, who had read some of her work and saw something in it. This encouraged her to write the novella. The Debut, supplemented with more childhood memories, is to be made into a film next spring under the direction of Nouchka van Brakel. 

Before writing The Debut, she'd done all sorts of things. "After three years of lyceum and two years at the academy, I restored antiques and studied electronics. After that, I had all kinds of jobs because I had to take care of myself early on. I was at a secondary school, a computer assistant, at a theatre company, a packer at Patria, in cafes behind the bar, and that makes you so miserable. But I don't want to be dependent on others. I still want to have a tenner in my pocket to come home on my own.

Meanwhile, Hester's faith in humanity has taken some dents since the publication of her novella. The reactions weren't always that pleasant. Some think she's cynical; some think she's an ego tripper. "It's like you're a threat by writing a book and doing something on your own rather than together. Someone said, "You know what I thought was right?" If you'd written a book about the kids of Vietnam. Why do we always have to talk to each other about guilt? Is that progressive? I agree that a lot needs to change. We should move mountains to help ravaged areas to a better climate. But why can't you feel good, be sure of yourself, try to get the best out of yourself? I am very ambitious. I want to go to the moon or at least to America. And live in the most expensive hotel in the world, but I still eat a bag of fries every day if I feel like it. I would also like to have a car. And tour Amsterdam without guilt with an environmentally polluting exhaust."

As Het debuut was quickly selling out its first run, Albach continued to be profiled by the Dutch press, who couldn't get enough of her youthful punk rock spirit. New of the film version began to pick up steam in November of 1976 when De Telegraph ran a full-page article on the film's casting. Noting Van Brakel's history (which I covered in my look at A Woman Like Eve), the article closed with the following call that echoed throughout The Netherlands:

"Candidates for the starring role can report by letter, with a photo embedded, to the FILM EDITOR of De Telegraaf/ Courant Nieuws van de Dag, P.O. Box *** in Amsterdam. The registrations must be sent as soon as possible."

Not surprisingly, applicants flooded the offices of De Telegraph as the long process of finding the perfect young-adult actress for The Debut was underway. The adult cast Van Brakel had already assembled was extremely impressive and included Peter Faber and Kittie Courbois. Van Brakel wanted an unknown for the lead, though. It was essential that the part not be played by a recognizable actress.   

While the actress that would eventually play the lead role of Carolien in 
The Debut ultimately got the majority of press attention, van Brakel's behind-the-scenes crew was just as impressive. Van Brakel would end up adapting the book along with fellow $corpio film veteran Carel Donck. Award-winning cinematographer Theo van de Sande was brought on board for the film's photography, which would be a perfect fit for its crisp fall and winter setting.  Daughters of Darkness editor August Verschueren was hired for the film's cutting, as was another $corpio member Inger Kolff for the film's unfussy art direction. Van Brakel and producer Matthijs van Heijningen did all they could to ensure that her long-awaited feature-length debut would be worth all of the anticipation that was building.  

Van Brakel wanted something spare but unique for the film's soundtrack and reached out to composer Ron Westerbeek and Dutch prog rock band Water for the film's sublimely effective score. Water had just unleashed their terrific second album, Damburst (1976), when they came aboard The Debut. Their work on the film's soundtrack occurred just before they broke up in 1977.  

While the cast and crew on The Debut were extremely distinguished, the film's success depended on the casting of Carolien. A week before Christmas, 1976, De Telegraph announced the actress who Van Brakel had cast. Her name was Marina de Graaf.

Originally from Sylvia Kristel's hometown of Utrecht, lovely and talented Marina de Graaf was the ideal actress for The Debut.  De Telegraph detailed the process that led to her discovery:

"No less than fourteen hundred letters with striking photographs were sent to our editors after the publication of the story in which girls were asked to compete for a major role in a new Dutch film. With director Nouchka van Brakel and producer Matthijs van Heijningen, all letters were carefully studied, after which test recordings were made for days with prospective actresses. The winner eventually emerged as MARINA DE GRAAF as the girl to whom Nouchka van Brakel dared to entrust the important role in her film Het Debuut."

It was a terrific introduction story. Albach was particularly pleased with Van Brakel's young discovery as this lengthy piece in Nieuwsblad van het Noorden pointed out:

"The Debut is produced for half a million guilders, a low-budget film, with a contribution from the Dutch Production Fund. The cast also includes Pleuni Touw, Kitty Courbois and Dolf de Vries. The crew features Nouchka's husband, Theo van der Sande. Filming will be completed within six weeks. It is filmed at locations in Amsterdam-Zuid and in the Belgian seaside resort of Knokke. The film will be released by Tuchinski in 1977. Hester Albach's novel was rewritten into a script by Karel Donck and Van Brakel. An attempt to find someone through a call in newspapers and television had done little. Marina de Graaf was eventually suggested by friends. Nouchka van Brakel and Hester Albach are very enthusiastic about this choice: Marina even seems to look like Hester. Marina never had plans to be an actress, she says and she just read the book last week. Playing the lead role in the film adaptation seems to her to be a lot of fun to do. And other than that, she'll see."

Marina perhaps never planned on a career as an actress, but her extraordinary performance in The Debut all but assured that undesired destiny. Van Brakel's young protege kept the director and her crew busy as she was a bit of a wild child on the set.  Het vrije volk called de Graaf wildly spontaneous while filming and reported that she was obsessed with getting a motorcycle license. Dealing with a delightfully bratty young woman in her late teens on the set of The Debut was a challenge for Van Brakel, but it was well worth it as de Graaf gives one of the great debut performances of the period. She is so perfectly cast that it is impossible to imagine anyone else in the role.  

De Graaf's powerful performance controls nearly every frame of The Debut, but the rest of the cast is uniformly fine. As her older lover, future award-winning actor Gerard Cox gives a complex and uneasy performance. The film contains numerous rich performances, including a scene-stealing turn by Van Brakel's daughter, Sandrien. 

While most of the press attention went to De Graaf, the most head-turning figure on The Debut's set was none other than legendary scenester and artistic muse Mathilde Willink. Making her only big-screen appearance in a striking scene featuring her tenderly applying makeup to the young de Graaf, Willink is captured by Van Brakel during her most captivating period. 

Watching Willink and de Graaf in their brief scene together is truly exciting. The fact that Willink died under mysterious circumstances just a few months after the film premiered makes her brief appearance all the most haunting.  

The Debut is not only one of the best first films of the seventies, but it is also one of the best Dutch films period. You can feel Van Brakel's years of experience in both film and the feminist movement bursting through every scene.  The Debut never feels at all preachy or condescending. It is a beautifully directed and written work that manages to be poetic but not predictable. Most importantly, The Debut never feels exploitive, something that it would have struggled with had a man attempted to direct it.  

With its confident direction and knockout performances, The Debut is an entirely unforgettable and distinctive experience. Critical reaction was mostly positive, with some mixed reactions mixed in.  The Debut was a popular hit, though, and inevitable stardom was predicted for the quirky and mesmerizing de Graaf. The exciting young actress was struggling with the sudden onslaught of fame, though, as this piece in Algemeen Dagblad made all too clear:

"I don't like the fame at all. They now recognize me as Marina de Graaf, the girl from the film, but they don't know the real Marina - that's very annoying. A lot of people I used to see now say, "Oh, how nice to see you again; I want to be your boyfriend." When I hear something like that, I get really mad. They only like me because they think I'm a movie star. By the way, I don't think I'm a star at all! When they ask me if I'm not proud now, I answer, "proud? Not at all."

Admitting that she had "cried with emotion" when she finally saw the completed film, De Graaf was struggling with the unexpected stardom. Interviewed by Leeuwarder courant, De Graaf noted a terrifying incident that had occurred just before The Debut premiered:

"I got beat up last week, two days before the premiere. A girl attacked me; she probably had someone else's orders. I didn't even know them. It's heavy! She pulled my hair out of my head, and I've got another bruise here. I didn't do anything back because she was twice as strong as me. I just got down on the ground and got beat up. I don't want people to be jealous of me. Incredibly childish! And then they say I hit her first! And that never actually happens there, but once it happened and then I was screwed. I cried, mainly because it had never happened to me before that someone hit me for no reason."

Incidents like the one above certainly didn't help the anxiety stricken de Graaf, who never did achieve the stardom that had seemed so inevitable. The majority of her performances in the years directly after The Debut were mostly blink-and-miss eye-grabbing supporting turns. She would continue acting in film and television, but The Debut remains her signature role. Major stardom might have never occurred, but even the most prominent stars would kill to have a performance as accomplished as The Debut on their resume.  

The relative success of The Debut would lead Van Brakel to one of the most exciting careers of the period. It might not be Van Brakel's greatest film, but moments like when she films de Graaf riding her bike through the streets of Amsterdam captures an authentic youthful freedom not seen in other movies. Add that on to the fact that Van Brakel managed to film what could have been a grossly offensive story so honestly and sensitively makes The Debut all the more remarkable.  

The Debut is making its worldwide Blu-ray debut via a new release from Cult Epics. Featuring a stirring new HD transfer from a rare 35 mm print, The Debut looks fantastic. Extras include vintage behind-the-scenes footage, a packed photo gallery, and trailers. 
It is available as a single disc release and will also be in the upcoming Nouchka van Brakel Trilogy box-set.

Even though it is both a decidedly feminist work and not exploitive, The Debut could not be made in today's climate.  Cult Epics' fine new edition not only restores one of the finest debuts of the seventies, but it also harkens back to a time when filmmakers were eager to tackle controversial subject matter, and audiences weren't afraid to view them.    

-Jeremy R Richey, 2021-


Nouchka Van Brakel Trilogy from Cult Epics on Vimeo.