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May 6th

Until May 6th, 2002 (my maternal grandmother's 92nd birthday), the Netherlands was viewed as the European nation in which multicultural integration had proven to be most successful.  Despite a long history as colonizers on four continents the Dutch were economically stable, upwardly mobile (they are widely considered the center of modern European architecture), and generally bereft of the class, race, or religious divisions that usually result in violent crime.  Still, certain voices did not like the Netherlands of tomorrow.  They claimed that all was nice now, but coming borderless years would just saturate what was already one of the world's more densely populated countries.   These immigrants would do all the bad things immigrants are known for doing: pilfering jobs, school desks, and hospital beds, and not giving a lick in return (you may have heard this argument elsewhere).  Some of them will get across our boundaries whatever measures we take, they said, but we should make sure that most of them don't.

The leader of this "they" was not who you might expect.  He was an erstwhile professor of sociology at this university.  He was also completely bald, openly homosexual, a lifelong Catholic, and dressed to the nines on every possible occasion.  To him the word "charismatic" did not apply, it clung.  With dandy–like flourishes, he would remind audiences about the rich intellectual and artistic history of their homeland, which in terms of historical production of great works of art per capita might well rank second in Europe after Greece.  I suppose few people nowadays learn Dutch to delve into Grotius and Erasmus; but the language still holds currency for the student of painting.  And Pim Fortuyn, assassinated by a gunman on May 6th, 2002 after a radio interview, was in every way a Dutch painting.  

I remember Fortuyn's speeches (often shown at length on German television) quite well.  He was knighted with every possible disparaging term for a political conservative; yet it appeared that his views only coincided with traditional right–wingers on the matter of immigration.  The problem perhaps lay in Fortuyn's timing: he railed against Islam, which he saw as a major threat in its fundamentalist manifestations, in the 1990s, a prescient stance in light of the world events during the last nine months of his life.  For that reason he was often accused of fear–mongering and xenophobic exploitation, charges whose truthfulness will ever remain the speculation of biographers.  He was also revered by director Theo Van Gogh, himself a murder victim, and his film presents an alternative to the official explanation of Fortuyn's demise.

I have said little about the film, based on the novel by Tomas Ross (the Dutch master of the historical thriller) because there is little to say that you might not be able to infer from a few clues.  We have an unshaven, heroic photographer (Thijs Römer), a pretty immigrant (Tara Elders) with an ungodly amount of bone structures in her closet (plenty of room there with such a scanty wardrobe), plus the typical assortment of sinister security agents, nosy neighbors, and helpful coworkers.  Somehow this young lady is involved with the animal rights group that slew Fortuyn (the official explanation), although Ross and Van Gogh have other ideas on the subject.  The pieces come together as we might hope with a few twists to alleviate the predictability.  Highlights include a gargantuan wheezing spymaster whose cellular ring tone is a neighing horse, and a one–word Google search that yielded the same results for me as it did for one of the characters.  Who says it's all at random? 

Yet the primary reason to see the film are the dozens of newsclips, mostly of Fortuyn.  On a variety of subjects and often very much to Fortuyn's disadvantage, the clips accompany the action and events as if Fortuyn himself were guiding the investigation of the first peacetime political assassination in the Netherlands in over three hundred years.  What we have in the end is fiction, but the topic has been sufficiently engaged to make us realize what a shock this murder was.  The bust of Pim Fortuyn in Rotterdam reads loquendi libertatem custodiamos – may we protect the freedom of speech.  A beautiful sentiment, an inalienable right, and perhaps the one right we most often abuse.  When we say things to do purposeful harm, we have lost the sense of self-determination and expression that Fortuyn, for better or for worse, defended until his death.  And with his death?  I think he would agree that with his death came forgiveness and light.

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