Un film de Alex van Warmerdam

The Last Days of Emma Blank

Long - métrage de fiction - Couleur - 35 mm - 90'

Pitch

Emma Blank, the sick mother of the household, waits for her death.
So do her servants.

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Synopsis

A simple country house on the edge of the dunes. The house, the drive leading up to it, the lawns, the borders, it is all not exactly run-down, but it is high time for a facelift. Behind the house is the garage which is partly in use as a workshop. Under a mouldy-green, torn parasol we see Haneveld, a middle-aged man. He is the man of the house and is smoking a cigarette. Now he walks away and passes the garage where Meier, obscured by a pile of car tyres, is secretly reading a magazine in an old easy chair. Meier is the man-servant and about 25 years of age.
Haneveld stands still in front of the open garage doors, drops his cigarette and steps it out. Through a small opening in the pile of car tyres Meier looks at Haneveld who is now looking in his direction. Meier ducks out of sight. Haneveld walks on and goes into the house through a door at the back. Together with him we enter the kitchen where we find Bella, a sturdy woman on the right side of fifty. She is the cook and the housekeeper. She stirs a large pan of soup, tastes some and adds a few ingredients. Haneveld washes his hands, dries them and leaves the kitchen.
Haneveld goes up the stairs. He stops at a bedroom door and knocks. A weak ‘yes?’ sounds. Haneveld opens the door. A girl’s room. Gonnie sits on the edge of her bed sewing a button on to her blouse. She is the servant girl, twenty years old and attractive.

‘Are you hurrying up?’ says Haneveld. ‘Yes’, Gonnie says.
Haneveld closes the door, walks down the corridor. At the end he knocks on another door. There is no reaction. He knocks again; all is silent. He gently opens the door and looks into a large, high-ceilinged bedroom. Emma Blank, the lady of the house, is lying in bed, her face turned away from us, her long grey-blonde hair fanning out over the pillow. By her own account she is seriously ill and does not have long to live.

‘You’ve been smoking’, Emma says.
‘It’s ten to seven’, Haneveld says.
Emma Blank sits up straight in bed and pins up her hair.
‘I’ll be there.’
Haneveld closes the door and goers back to the top of the stairs. Gonnie comes out of her room. She is now wearing a lace apron and nips down the stairs right in front of Haneveld.
‘Does it have to be last-minute work again?’ Haneveld says.
In the dining-room Gonnie sets the table for one person, watched attentively by Haneveld.
Every now and then she passes the open doors to the living room. Walter lies there, on the floor and half under a table. He is in his mid-forties, stares ahead with an animal look on his face and never speaks.
Gonnie goes to the kitchen and is given a soup tureen by Bella.
Emma Blank enters the dining room. She is tastefully dressed, make-up on her pale face. She sits down at the table. Dinner is served.

That is the start of ‘The last days of Emma Blank’.
There’s nothing going on yet, but bit by bit it becomes clear that the servants are more than just servantsl. Haneveld turns out to be Emma’s husband, but they live separately. Gonnie is their daughter. Meier is Bella’s son, while Bella in her turn is Emma’s sister.
Walter may first have seemed mentally handicapped, it soon becomes apparent that he is the dog.  Literally. Walter is the dog. And that goes without saying for all the characters in the film. Walter is given the left-overs, he is taken for a walk by Gonnie, he craps on the lawn in front of the house and during a walk in the dunes he turns up with a dead pheasant between his teeth.  Sometimes, at unexpected moments, exactly like real dogs will do, he starts riding up someone’s leg.
Is Walter also family? We will find out later.
Nursing and looking after the ever dissatisfied Emma Blank is a heavy burden to all and it is done with visible reluctance. Emma seems to take advantage of her illness; feels ill when it suits her and stands firmly on her feet then next moment. Gonnie especially has trouble with the role as servant to her own mother.  She can’t bear to see how Haneveld in particular is humiliated by Emma. One evening she announces that she wants to stop doing this. 

‘It’s very simple. If you don’t like it here, you leave. That’s all. We are the clowns on the cancer ward. And so what? says Bella.
‘I haven’t got cancer, you know’, Emma says.
‘Now she suddenly doesn’t have cancer’ Gonnie says.
‘I never had cancer.’
‘What disease are you planning to die of?’
‘I’m finished! Finished, get it?’
‘You’ve been finished all your life. You were born finished. And a person who’s finished, should die.
‘I am dying.’
‘When it suits you!’ Gonnie yells.

But Gonnie is not strong enough. She stays. Besides, Meier is all over her; it is not a case of true love but she’s not entirely averse to his advances either. Bella and Haneveld on the other hand are lovers. Their relationship is tested not only by the jealous Emma who summons Haneveld in the middle of the night to come and lie next to her, but also by  Haneveld’s aversion to Meier and Bella’s aversion to Gonnie. Both of them see with alarm how a relationship between their respective children threatens to develop. Despite her desperate longing for loving care, Emma reveals herself as a steely dictator, whose demands become ever more absurd...

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Festivals

Best European Film in the Europa Cinema Label category in the Venice Days 's programme for the Venice filmfestival.

Nominated for the Gouden Kalveren in:
- the best production design
- the best supporting actor
- the best actor
- the best scenario
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