Truth and Movies

The Columnist

Review by Anton Bitel @AntBit

Directed by

Ivo van Aart

Starring

Bram van der Kelen Claire Porro Katje Herbers

Anticipation.

I can relate to columnists.

Enjoyment.

I can relate to vengeful psychokillers.

In Retrospect.

Fucks with the free speech debate like a cunt.

This blood-lashed black comedy takes aim at rightist trolls as it explores the limits of free speech.

“If people don’t agree with me, they’re allowed to be angry, they’re allowed to curse me, fight against me, with every argument they can come up with. But they aren’t allowed to silence me.”

Anna Boot (Claire Porro), a third year in high school, is on the warpath. After her headmaster (Harry van Rijthoven) has her removed from the school paper, ostensibly for using inappropriate language while, more probably, because she has been criticising his merger plans, she begins a free speech campaign that tests the very limits of what it is possible to say. This film, however, is not really Anna’s story, any more than the words (quoted above), that she reads out at a benefit she has organised, are her own.

Rather they belong to her mother Femke (Katja Herbers), a well-known columnist and liberal who is engaged in her own war – and not just one of words – against the army of rightists and misogynists who bombard her with hate messages and even death threats online. The film’s original Dutch title De Kuthoer (literally ‘The Cunt Whore’) reflects the kind of slur with with Femke is regularly tarred – and if the English title, The Columnist, seems to practise the sort of censorship against which Femke and her daughter rail, look closer and you will see that the most offensive term of the original title is still cunningly preserved within it.

While Femke’s new boyfriend, the crime novelist Steven Death (Bram van der Kelen), has cultivated gothic dress and and devilish demeanour for his public, in fact he is a good-natured, well-mannered pussycat (whose real name is Erik Flinterman). Femke is the opposite: she may advocate being ‘nice’ on social media, she may give off the image of being sweet, homely and ‘woke’ (she recently wrote a controversial article condemning as racist the Dutch custom of blacking up as Zwarte Piet), but deep down she harbours a sharp, illiberal anger which finds expression in her vicious feud against her virtual bullies.

The accidental killing of a noisy, reactionary neighbour leads to a series of altogether less accidental murders which buoy her mood and (temporarily) end her writer’s block. While at first the viewer might cheer to see incels and cyber trolls getting their comeuppance, Femke – who rapidly loses any justification for her actions and from the start collects fingers from her victims like a psychopath – makes for an extremely uncomfortable figure of identification.

Femke’s tragedy is that she becomes in practice the very opposite of what she preaches: someone who shuts down the conversation and leaves those with whom she disagrees permanently silenced. Yet from her rampage against free speech’s uglier side, director Ivo van Aart and writer Daan Windhorst weave the darkest satire. In essence their scenario pushes at the same boundaries between what is acceptable and unacceptable as Anna’s campaign, even as Femke’s vendetta shifts the argument from merely discursive, theoretical terms to the realm of the viscerally physical. Still, it is all just fictive banter, no harm done, right? Right?

Published 13 Mar 2021

Tags: Ivo van Aart The Columnist

Anticipation.

I can relate to columnists.

Enjoyment.

I can relate to vengeful psychokillers.

In Retrospect.

Fucks with the free speech debate like a cunt.

Suggested For You

Parasite

By Hannah Strong

Bong Joon-ho’s class-clash black comedy will burrow under your skin and stay there.

review LWLies Recommends

Six of Paul Verhoeven’s most controversial moments

By Nick Chen

From Showgirls to Starship Troopers, delve into the Dutch filmmaker’s provocative back catalogue.

The Post

By Charles Bramesco

Steven Spielberg recounts the story of the Pentagon Papers – with one eye on Donald Trump – in this strangely unsatisfying political drama.

review

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design