Tragedy dances behind a mask of performance in Van Gogh's dark drama Blind Date (1996)
Blind Date is a film about Pom (Peer Mascini) and Katja (Renée Fokker). We never meet them, but it is about them nonetheless. The film is a drama, yet it is shot, scored and acted like a horror movie, sharing the same ethereally malevolent air that The Shining's (Kubrick, 1980) Overlook Hotel bled from every wall. In fact, do you remember the Gold Room from that movie, where Jack (Jack Nicholson) met with the ghostly bartender? Well this could be the Gold Room sixteen years on, and it's no less terrifying. The dark tone is amplified by narration from a dead child; she died in a tragic accident, and Pom and Katja were her parents. Having failed to take their own lives they have sunk into a restless depression, and now channel their grief into a kind of performance art. They place ads, subtly relating to their grievance, and then meet up as characters in a dimly lit bar. That ghostly air stems from the fact that it's almost always empty, the characters channeling their anger and fears into a place of isolated darkness, always watched over by the same bemused barman, who at times engages in their role play.
I admired Blind Date, but I didn't like it. In fact, it's such an unrelentingly bleak and confrontational work that I struggled to connect with it on any level. But then I'm not supposed to; it's not asking to be loved. Pom's characters are increasingly disturbed and violent, lashing out both verbally and physically (his trashing of the dance hall is distressing), but in order to deliver a performance that big you really need to play it against a smaller, more sympathetic one. But Katja can be equally repulsive and upsetting, her intense sadness proving awkward more than empathetic. I didn't relate to these people, or care about their grief. But is Van Gogh reaching for larger ideas? Is he himself essaying the nature of performance? I wouldn't want to accuse him of not caring about his characters, but the duality of persona is a theme which recurs throughout his work; see Interview (2003) for example, which is a devious examination of deception and performance. Is Van Gogh trying to unsettle us, trying to make a point about fakery, or am I just reading too far into the film due to the absence of emotional investment? Because I wasn't engaged by the characters and their dialogue was my mind allowed to wander into the frame and create ideas of its own? Perhaps, but that would ultimately mean that Blind Date is a failure.
It's not a film without interest, and I would recommend that people seek it out - especially horror fans, funnily enough, as dead children appear everywhere from Don't Look Now (Roeg, 1973) to Antichrist (von Trier, 2009), and this places a fascinating twist on the classic genre trope. The atmosphere is inhabited by deeply disconcerting sorrow and anger, and if that sounds like your idea of a good night in then Blind Date might just be the film for you. Be warned though - it's a tough ride.