When Dutch film director and loudmouth Theo van Gogh was executed by a muslim extremist, the world didn’t just lose one of the most prolific Dutch directors: van Gogh had plans of remaking three of his movies in the United States, knowing that his movies could become better known if they were made in the US with American actors. Van Gogh is dead, but his legacy lives on. Three American directors have stepped in to direct one of the remakes. First up: Steve Buscemi’s version of Interview.
Pierre Peders is a journalist of a famous weekly magazine. Many men would commit a murder to be in his shoes: he gets to spend an evening with Katya, Hollywood’s latest movie babe. Only Pierre doesn’t care much about the job: he’s more into politics and is particularly vexed when Katya shows up late. Furthermore, he is annoyed because the world is so starstruck: people are moved to have Katya sit at her regular table and, whereas Pierre is strictly forbidden to use his mobile at the restaurant, noone complains when Katya has a brainless chat on her mobile (with a most irritating ringtone).
Needless to say, the interview is a disaster and Katya decides to go home. But that is only where the movie begins…
Pierre isn’t entirely unsatisfied he doesn’t have to be near this talentless bimbo any longer and takes a cab to Washington DC, where a giant political scandal has just broken loose. However, the cab driver is driving past Katya walking home to her apartment and tries to get her attention, thus hitting the moving van in front of him (nice nod: the company’s name is Van Gogh) and giving Pierre Peders a nasty cut on his forehead. Katya feels it is somehow her fault and takes the journalist home to treat his wound. Pierre grabs this chance to have another go at interviewing her, but this time we get to see another side of the brainless babe who appears only in second-rate soaps and movie sequels. What follows is as much an attempt at an interview as a duel where only one can be the winner.
Theo van Gogh’s Interview starred Pierre Bokma (as Pierre) and Katja Schuurman (as Katja). I mention this because many people will look at you as if you’ve said you’re going to a KKK rally when you say you’re going to see a Theo van Gogh movie. Katja is a Dutch phenomenon: she’s a babe, she’s an actress (who debuted in soaps) and hosts several Dutch tv shows. Because of her past, many still look at her as a brainless bimbo with more luck than talent. She is however known across the Dutch border too and you’ll get many men drooling just by saying her name.
Furthermore, the screenplay was penned by Theodor Holman, but the idea came from Hans Teeuwen, an edgy comedian. The closest international comparison would be Bill Hicks, even though I don’t recall Hicks making jokes about having anal sex with the Queen. Think of the bastard child that Bill Hicks would have with the creators of South Park. Teeuwen’s relentless comedy (which caused the man to check into a mental institution for a couple of months and saying farewell to the world of comedy) made him famous in Holland and Belgium. Tell people you’re going to watch a van Gogh movie and they’ll give you a weird look. Tell them Teeuwen was behind the movie and they’ll ask if they can join you.
I felt it necessary to mention this. Not only because Buscemi stuck close to van Gogh’s original movie (more about that soon), but also because van Gogh was such a complex person. He’s still widely seen as a loudmouth who sought his own death, but many forget there were two sides to van Gogh: his pieces for papers and magazines were controversial, but he showed a softer side in his movies. The anti-muslim statements people still remember him for were almost always directed against muslim extremists (just like he liked to poke fun at traditional catholics) and van Gogh used more muslim characters in his movies than any other Dutch director.
Interview is a wonderful chance to see that other nature of van Gogh, the one most people don’t talk about (mostly because they’ve never seen his movies). This is in no way meant as a hagiography: I’m not a big fan of van Gogh, but I do acknowledge that he made a couple of films that are worth seeing. Since his murder, however, you can only talk about his movies after you’ve shed some light on the complexity of van Gogh’s person.
Buscemi inserted a lot of nods to van Gogh’s oeuvre: the actress Katya (Sienna Miller) is rehearsing with, is Tara Elders, star of 06/05 (the movie that van Gogh had finished just before he was brutally murdered), Katya lives in apartment 06 (06 is another movie by van Gogh) and when Pierre is taking pictures of Katya’s apartment you’ll see a picture of a couple: not Katya’s family as a friend assumed, but Theo van Gogh and Katja Schuurman. The real Katja Schuurman also has a cameo in Buscemi’s movie: at the end of the movie, as Pierre has left Katya’s apartment, a woman steps out of a limo and bumps into Pierre. Guess who that is…
Which brings me to one of biggest criticisms of Buscemi’s film: why is Sienna Miller’s character still named Katja? One of the biggest jokes of Interview was that Katja Schuurman got to play a character with her name, saddled with a reputation as bad as her. Sienna Miller is no stranger to the press either. I’m not sure whether Buscemi kept the name Katya as an ode to van Gogh or if he was afraid people couldn’t distinguish the actress Sienna from the character Sienna, but this was one of my favourite parts of the original movie: that Katja Schuurman got a chance to make fun of her bimbo reputation.
Buscemi stuck close to the original version and gave himself the role of the weary journalist. The movie was shot on a shoestring budget in nine nights (van Gogh completed his film in five), but all that doesn’t matter: Interview is a mental battle between a journalist who doesn’t seem to understand why the world cares more about bimbos than politics and an actress who wants to know why this journalist is such a pain in the ass and why he is so prejudiced against her (even if he hardly knows who she is). There aren’t many surprises if you’ve seen the original version, but the movie holds itself up neatly when based in another country with other actors. Plus, now a lot more people will be able to see a Theo van Gogh movie and get to see another side of the man.
Next up in the “Triple Theo” trilogy is Stanley Tucci‘s version of Blind Date. The irony here is that van Gogh wanted to remake three films in the US to get a wider audience, but now Tucci is shooting his Blind Date in Belgium “for financial reasons”. An irony van Gogh probably would’ve found amusing.
A 7 out of 10 for Buscemi’s version (that’s minus 1 for keeping “Katya”) and I’ll leave you with a trailer and a recommendation that you should really go and see Interview, be it van Gogh’s movie, Buscemi’s version or both.