A strongly scripted, well-lensed political thriller, “The Sixth of May” relies too much on a knowledge of local politics to have much carry-over potential in international waters. It will nevertheless be remembered as a satisfying last feature by controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was murdered on November 2 by a young Muslim extremist, allegedly because of his 11-minute short film “Submission” made with the Somali-Dutch politican Ayaan Hirsi Ali about Islam’s oppression of women. Opening Rotterdam’s Dutch Perspective, “The Sixth of May” has chilling overlaps with the filmmaker’s own tragic death, giving it a special poignancy and guaranteeing interest for the festival crowd.
With the van Gogh tragedy still shaking Holland, pic will do its best business locally. Producer Gijs van de Westelaken plans to film English-language remakes of current pic as well as the director’s 1996 “Blind Date” and 2003 “Interview” as a tribute. The Rotterdam festival has also inaugurated an annual Theo van Gogh Award for Maverick Film Makers.
Film reps a bold and generally successful attempt to mix historical people and events with audacious fictional speculation, and to erase the boundaries between them à la Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” This is one reason why viewers without a good working knowledge of Dutch politics will find the story confounding. The other is a complicated plotline that never comes fully untangled.
Key fact to know is that idiosyncratic right-wing politico Pim Fortuyn, repeatedly seen in newsreel footage as a smiling, dapper bald man, was assassinated on May 6, 2002 by an animal rights activist. Around his murder Van Gogh and his coscripter Tomas Ross build a fictionalized plot, hypothesizing a worldwide conspiracy to get rid of Fortuyn masterminded by American economic interests and executed by the Dutch secret services.
Anchoring the story is news photographer Jim de Booy (Thijs Romer), who happens to be snapping pictures of a TV starlet outside the radio station where Fortuyn is shot. He inadvertently captures the killer in the background of his photos, along with a number of conspirators.
Privately investigating the murder, he crosses paths with Ayse (Tara Elders), a double-dealing Turkish girl who is embroiled in the affair. Once the lover of another impassioned animal rights activist, she has been strong-armed into working with some Dutch secret service heavies. Her current b.f. Erdogan (Cahit Olmez) is also a bit shady, but comes in handy when her life is threatened by her ex. Only through Jim’s snooping will she learn that Erdogan, too, is playing a double game.
Meanwhile, the intelligence bosses are meeting with Dutch powerbrokers and an unidentified American businessman to manipulate the government into voting for the Joint Strike Fighter, an expensive military plane Fortuyn opposes. By replacing him with a puppet figure, they eventually succeed in swinging the vote in favor of American plans.
Intercut with all these plot threads is documentary footage of Fortuyn getting a pie in the face from a disgruntled citizen and being hotly attacked by left-wing politicians. Van Gogh largely steps back from taking sides, but there are hints he agrees with those who feel Fortuyn, Holland’s most vocal opposition leader, was set up as a potential assassination target by his opponents. Compared to the inflammatory “Submission,” however, there is nothing to fuel great controversy here.
Spiked with classic action chases by taxi, motorcycle and through a tropical fun fair, film keeps up a riveting pace, aided by Rainer Hensel’s catchy, dramatic score. Elders is noteworthy, if ambiguous, as the complicated Ayse, and Olmez brings the same dark side/light side to the role of her Turkish lover.
As the photog, Romer is forced to battle with more romantic complications than James Bond, plus a shrewish ex-wife and overly demonstrative teenage daughter who are meant to round out his character but only muddy it. When he finally joins forces with Elders they make a most attractive couple on the run, though the pairing takes place so late in the film that their romance comes as an unlikely surprise.