Pasolini’s “Teorema” is successfully transplanted to Dutch suburbia in the effective tragicomedy “The Deflowering of Eva van End.” The story of the arrival of an impossibly perfect German boy into a deftly dysfunctional Lowlands family exposes the bourgeois clan to their true desires and inner selves. With an assist from newbie feature scribe Anne Barnhoorn, rookie helmer Michiel ten Horn, who has a background in animation, finds exactly the right tone for this quirky tale, which is also reminiscent of the ironic, oft-devastating insights of Todd Solondz’s work. A Toronto slot was the first of no doubt many fest stops.
Though the title might suggest otherwise, the pic is really a portrait of how an apparently picture-perfect middle-class family comes apart when it is confronted with actual perfection. Blond-haired, white-clad teenager Veit (Rafael Gareisen), who looks like an escapee from a Rugby Ralph Lauren catalog, takes on the Terence Stamp role, here imagined as a faultless German exchange student who arrives on the family’s doorstep to general surprise, though the van Ends’ slightly zaftig 15-year-old daughter, Eva (Vivian Dierickx), told everyone he was coming — not that anyone actually listens to her.
In Barnhoorn’s perceptive, well-structured screenplay, inspired by events that actually befell helmer ten Horn in his youth, Veit’s extremely kind, attentive persona — he cooks breakfast for whoever deserves it most, has adopted a child in Africa and is a vegetarian — soon throws everyone else’s imperfect ways into high relief. Those shown up include the milquetoast father (Ton Kas), the inner-peace-seeking mother (Jacqueline Blom), Eva and her two older brothers, reserved and about-to-be-married Erwin (Tomer Pawlicki) and rude, gluttonous Manuel (Abe Dijkman).
That bourgeois families aren’t all that happy behind their white picket fences isn’t exactly a surprise, but “Deflowering” goes beyond that simple statement to show how, to paraphrase Tolstoy, each family member is unhappy in her or his own way. Ten Horn uses the contrast with Veit as a litmus test for each character’s sanity, while also laying bare how the lack of communication among the van Ends has made anything other than anesthetized cohabitation practically impossible.
It’s quite an achievement that the pic manages to suggest so much while seemingly coasting from one oddball event to another, with the ensemble cast delivering riveting, entirely co-dependent performances.
Craft contributions, including d.p. Jasper Wolf’s slightly saturated lensing, production designer Rikke Jellier’s fantastic bourgeois habitat, and costume designers Minke Lunter and Rebekka Wormann’s telltale duds, all help bear out the film’s central idea that a little less perfection never hurt anyone.