Movie Review: Riphagen (2016)
“Riphagen” is the story of Dries Riphagen (Jeroen van Koningsbrugge), a real-life Dutch gangster who stole from and betrayed and sent to the gas chambers more than 200 Jews in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. He's the anti-Schindler.
And he gets away in the end. It’s infuriating.
Not because he gets away. Because several people, including our ostensible hero, Jan (Kay Greidanhus), have the drop on him and let him talk his way out of it. Again and again. And again. Three times, by my count.
The real story is both sobering and damning. It’s about how opportunists survive and thrive, relying on the naiveté or opportunism or helplessness of others. The filmmakers reduce this to B-movie shtick. They fuck it up.
A confederacy of Dutchies
First, we don’t even find out that Riphagen was a gangster. That his nickname was “Al Capone.” That he joined the anti-Semitic National Socialist Dutch Workers’ Party prior to Nazi occupation. I had to look all that up.
Maybe we don't get any of this because the movie begins with the conceit that Riphagen might be helping Jews. He discovers an older Jewish woman in an attic, sets her up in an apartment, takes her out for meals, tells her a sob story about how his Jewish wife was killed, decks an anti-Semite in her presence, and in this manner, and despite the fact that he’s a dead ringer for Lex Luthor, her suspicions slowly turn to trust. So much so that she brings in other Jewish friends who entrust their money and lives to him. And when he gets it all? That’s when he betrays them.
As we knew he would.
Seriously, even if we don’t know the history going in (as I didn’t), it’s how the movie is sold. “Riphagen” is about “a Dutch traitor” who helped “round up Jews.” So when he does, it’s not exactly a shock. Plus isn’t Riphagen infamous enough in the Netherlands that the beginning conceit is wasted on them? Wouldn’t it be like Norway making a movie called “Quisling” whose big reveal is that, hey, he collaborated with the Nazis! Quisling! Of all people!
The movie keeps mixing real-life events/people with fictional elements—but not in that good E.L. Doctorow way:
- Anna Raadsveld (a Kim Darby lookalike) plays Betje Wary, a weepy-eyed Jewish girl pressured by Riphagen into betraying her friends in the Dutch underground. The real Betje seems more calculating.
- Sieger Sloot plays Frits Kerkhoven, a member of the Dutch underground during the war and the Dutch secret service after, who is fooled by Riphagen. The real Frits seems less of a rube. Apparently he helped smuggle Riphagen to Belgium; then in Spain he brought him suit and shoes lined with diamonds. He aided and abetted.
Our hero, as far as I know, is fictional. Jan is a handsome, big-eyed, worried-looking kid, who is both cop and member of the Dutch resistance. He’s part of a (real life) raid on a printing plant in The Hague. Then he’s part of a (fictional) romance with Betje that goes nowhere. He makes out with her, she’s confused by a fake badge he has, she begs off. So he just goes home to his beautiful wife. Wait, what? Then Riphagen forces a teary-eyed Betje to betray everyone. She does, teary-eyed. Resistance members like Charley Hartog are killed (this happened, too), so Jan goes into hiding. After the war, he emerges, pursues Riphagen, gets the drop on him, but talks too much and only wounds him. But Riphagen plays it like he’s dead.
Half the movie is a postwar battle between Wim Sanders (Michel Sluysman) and Louis Einthoven (Mark Reitman) over control of the National Security Service. Both are historical personages. For some reason, here, Sanders has it in for Jan and trusts Riphagen. The real Sanders, I believe, tried to use Riphagen, the way Riphagen knew he would. In other words, Riphagen sold himself as what he was, a traitor, because that way Sanders knew he had useful information.
In the movie, it’s just stupid. Jan searches for Betje, who can prove his innocence and Riphagen’s villainy, but Frits finds her first, then, like a doofus, leaves her alone near Riphagen ... who threatens her life. So of course she gets panicky and teary-eyed again. But why? War is over, girlfriend. One word and Riphagen is hanging. One word from you. You have the power. Instead, with tapes rolling, she blames ... herself. I wanted to slap my forehead. Or her.
Eventually Riphagen reveals his villainy to all—ha ha!—knowing the politicians can’t own up to their ineptitude without destroying their careers. So they make matters worse: Sanders actually drives Riphagen to Belgium. Thankfully, Jan pursues, gets the drop on him, is ready to shoot. He tells him to get on his knees. Me: “C’mon. Pull the trigger already. Or just shoot him in the knees. That’ll make him bend, right? And that way you won’t have to worry that he’ll suddenly overpower you and strangle you and kill y—
Don’t cry for him
So the fictional Jan dies while the real Riphagen gets away—first, we’re told, to Spain, then Argentina, where he became friends with the Perons. All of that seems more interesting than the fictional stuff we’re given; where everyone but Riphagen is an idiot.
Maybe they were? The afterword also mentions that the Dutch government finally put a bounty on Riphagen ... in 1988. Late much, Holland? They discover he'd died in a Swiss sanitarium in 1973. Apparently he spent the ’60s having a swinging time in Spain, Germany and Switzerland. Way to stay on top of things, Europe.
Koningsbrugge has a powerful presence, Greidanhus is a handsome kid, and the raw material for a good/great movie is here. This ain't it.