The Many Faces of Rutger Hauer

by Suzanne Enzerink

21 April 2011

Hauer’s entire career is characterized by elusiveness; it is impossible to pinpoint him on genre, type of character, or the scale or format of the productions he stars in, and this is what makes his oeuvre so exciting. Also in 2011.

With his piercing blue eyes, blond hair, and chilling performances, Rutger Hauer is not an actor you will quickly forget. At 67, he is more prolific than ever, with around seven films (depending on which country you live in) in cinemas this year. With international successes such as Blade Runner and The Hitcher, Hauer is one of the very few Dutch actors who have forged a successful career in Hollywood, and in the process singlehandedly gave Dutch cinema a face. Hauer’s entire career is characterized by elusiveness; it is impossible to pinpoint him on genre, type of character, or the scale or format of the productions he stars in, and this is what makes his oeuvre so exciting. This Wednesday—on the first day of the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival—he was honored with a Career Achievement Award. With all these accolades coming his way and a whole host of new films coming our way, it is the perfect time for a guidebook to Rutger Hauer’s 2011.

The Netherlands and the United States are the two defining countries of his career. Ever since he catapulted into the limelight with the risqué Dutch Turkish Delight, Hauer has found himself going back and forth between the two. With a major starring role in Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D coming up and his recent appearance in the coldly received exorcism-thriller The Rite, Dutch journalists again confronted Hauer with the by-now completely superfluous question: what about The Netherlands? Hauer grasped the award ceremony as an opportunity to remind all those present that he hasn’t forgotten his “Dutch soul.” The grass, the water, the humor, and even the reserved attitude of the people, Hauer loves it all. He currently resides in the province of Friesland, a province all the way up north characterized by an abundance of lakes and natural beauty and the relative absence of people.
Hauer has often said that living there keeps him grounded. “To say it very black-and-white, the Dutch have a no-nonsense attitude towards celebrities,” he remarked in an interview with Dutch Veronica Magazine (2011/14). Indeed, it is commonly accepted in the Netherlands that the infamous saying ‘doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg’ (which roughly translates to ‘just act normal, that’s already crazy enough’) applies most to Friesland. But Hauer also has a special relation with the United States, the country that has given him grand opportunities and major box office successes. He even took an intensive English course at the end of the 1970s to realize his dream of starring in an American production. While he doesn’t always understand the fuss around his person, he also views it as a compliment, “because I was in a movie that became part of their life [Blade Runner]. This January, Hauer was once again an audience-favorite in the US. Two of his films premiered at Sundance, both to critical acclaim. He also filmed two Dutch productions, which both have the intention of selling to international distributors as well. 

The Mill and The Cross

The Polish film poster for The Mill and the Cross

I had the pleasure of seeing this film a few weeks ago. It is inspired by Pieter Bruegel’s 1564 painting “The Procession to Calvary,” and Hauer has the honor of bringing the grand master to life. The film meticulously traces the nexus of the painting, and has Hauer sitting in front of the work explaining the rationale behind the composition and the backgrounds of some of the characters. Director Lech Majewski successfully transports the viewer into the painting, and reveals the contentious situation in Flanders that gave rise to it. Majewski is a painter himself, and it shows. The film is visually perfect, and Hauer’s narrations are amusing and bring life to a subject that would normally not be able to count on such a wide audience. 


Hobo with a Shotgun

This film could not be more different from The Mill and the Cross. After Canadian director Jason Eisener won Robert Rodriguez’s “Grindhouse” trailer-contest with a fake trailer titled “Hobo with a Shotgun,” it didn’t take long to find financers to back the project. The result is an homage to the genre, which includes a lot of blood-shedding. As the title already reveals, an unshaven Hauer has traded in his brush for a shotgun, and the amount of paint that Breughel used pales in comparison to the amount of blood and guts that the hobo smears all over the screen. The Hobo arrives in corruption-filled Hope Town, and decides to clean things up a little. This is Hauer on his most violent since The Hitcher, but with good cause this time. One of the most anticipated films of the year, and you will not be disappointed. The film was released in Canada last month. Upcoming release dates are May 6 (US, limited), May 19 (Netherlands) and July 22 UK). 

Black Butterflies
Hauer and Van Houten in Black Butterflies

Hauer and Van Houten in Black Butterflies

This film sees Hauer star alongside Carice van Houten (1976), the most promising Dutch actress of her generation. Set in South Africa, the film zooms in on poet Ingrid Jonker (Van Houten), sometimes called the South African Sylvia Plath. After she killed herself in 1965, her work received renewed attention when Nelson Mandela read one of her poems in a speech to the new South African parliament in 1994. Hauer stars as her dominant father, a racist member of parliament. While he delivers a strong performance, it is a little unsettling to see two Dutch actors speak English instead of Afrikaans, which would have been more realistic and logical given the Dutch roots of the language. Furthermore, the plot is wildly incoherent, and the viewer never gets a clear insight into Jonker’s motivations or emotions. Not one of Hauer’s finest moments. 

De Heineken Ontvoering
Hauer filming in The Hague last week

Hauer filming in The Hague last week

Heineken. Perhaps the best-known Dutch word. While production just started, this film based on the most famous abducation case in Dutch history has already generated quite the buzz in the Netherlands. On November 9, 1983, Freddy Heineken—the then-CEO of beer brewery giant Heineken-and his driver were abducted by a criminal organization after two full years of planning. Heineken and his driver were held in a converted warehouse in a soundproof room. The police was able to rescue them on November 30th, but at that time almost half of the 35 million guilders of ransom money that had been paid was already gone. Two of the three suspects fled to France, while the third one was arrested in Amsterdam. Hauer will take on the role of Freddy Heineken, who continued to hunt his kidnappers until they were extradited to the Netherlands in 1986. Hauer filmed scenes in The Hague and Amsterdam over the past couple of weeks. Shooting in the Netherlands ended this week, and the rest of the film will be shot abroad. The premiere date is November 3rd for the Netherlands, and director Maarten Treurniet and the Dutch film funds contributing to the film have expressed interest in an international release.

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