Posted on February 1, 2018
Can any other typewriter claim (assuming a typewriter can claim anything) to have had a book, a movie, and a stage play named after it?
2001 Dutch movie Olivetti 82 is named after, and stars, a typewriter which is perhaps better known to collectors as the Olivetti “Diaspron”.
Thus I was spared a repeat of the embarrassment and frustration that came with my purchase of a DVD copy of ‘La Forza un Sogo (The Strength of the Dream)‘ in late March 2016.
In addition to the movie adaptation of Eriek Verpale’s 1993 book of the same name, several stage adaptations have been performed across Europe.
(Above) A striking Hungarian poster for the play: Olivetti 82
(Above) A Hungarian publicity shot for the same play.
(Above and Below) Stills from a Theater Malpertius (Dutch) production of Olivetti 82 starring actor Bob De Moor.
No excuse or scope for getting the typewriter casting wrong, not when the title Olivetti 82 is so machine-specific, right?
Wrong. See: The Olivetti Diaspora
The frivolous nature of this “typewriter movie” post is tempered by the dark nature of the movie’s subject matter. What various online reviewers have neglected to mention is that child abuse is the movie’s core theme.
The movie begins with a murder, by person or persons unknown, and the arrest of a suspect, writer Bernard Van de Wiele (Dirk Roofthooft), whose childhood we see in flashbacks during his interrogation by detectives.
Young Bernard (Joeri Busschots), a 10 year-old boy, is physically and verbally abused by his mother who, after the liberation of Europe at the end of Word War Two, has been abandoned by the boy’s father—a Canadian-Yiddish soldier.
(Above) Child actor Joeri Busschots on the cover of the DVD
While the mother, Moeder (a terrifyingly good performance from Ingrid De Vos), dotes on her youngest child Claudia, poor Bernard gets nothing but criticism and vitriol.
A bathing scene is which Bernard takes an essentially innocent yet mildly prurient interest in his naked sister (this has been triggered by improper suggestions from his classmates) is a crucial scene that goes some way to explaining the inhibited sexual and emotional development of Bernard later in life.
When Bernard innocently asks his mother what his classmates meant when they told him “he does it with his sister” he gets a vicious slap for it.
Charged with looking after his younger half-sister, Bernard does his best. It’s not his fault, of course, when he’s late to pick his little sister up from school and she vanishes. What is to become a very dark turn in events has already been foreshadowed by the mournful narration of the adult Bernard—and is further foreshadowed by Young Bernard’s encounter with a sinister-looking circus worker as he searches frantically for his sister.
Claudia’s body is eventually discovered. She’s been raped and murdered by the circus worker. Bernard’s mother blames him for her murder.
Despite this boyhood trauma, Bernard succeeds in gaining a private school scholarship and we next see him as a teenage student working on an essay at the home of his mother and her new partner, a man who introduces Bernard to his first typewriter.
Bernard writes a novel and dedicates it (even delivers it) to his unrequited love, Evelien.
Sadly for Bernard, Evelien has a proper boyfriend, a boyfriend who “does it with her”, a boyfriend who owns a brand new moped. Poor Bernard and his old Olivetti typewriter just can’t compete.
Oh fickle fate! Bernard’s life might have taken a completely different turn had he not left his typewriter out in the rain, had he not taken it back to Moshe Grinberg’s typewriter shop for repair. Bernard not only asks Old Moshe, a gnarly holocaust survivor, to fix his typewriter, he asks him to teach him Yiddish. Thus Bernard’s conversion to the Jewish faith begins.
Not that Bernard is ever considered a real Jew …
“… your mother was a shiksa.”
Quick and clever scene transitions like this move the story along, but as a result the plot seems sketchy …
Shelley (Rifka Lodezein), a Jewish girl Bernard hopes to marry, is also quick to question Bernard’s Jewish pedigree …
When Moshe’s prodigal son, Doktor Daniel Grinberg (Gijs Scholten Van Aschat) returns from living overseas, Bernard loses his lodgings (he’d moved in with Moshe, his mentor, many years before, after being thrown-out by his mother).
Thus rejected, a chance encounter on a bus sees Bernard take-up with the clearly mentally-unstable, Suzanne (Hilde Heijnen).
Suzanne falls pregnant and she and Bernard are married. Bernard suggests Claudia as a name for their daughter (Suzanne rejects this, knowing this was the name of Bernard’s murdered half-sister). Bernard then suggests Evelien. (Suzanne accepts this, presumably not knowing that this is the name of the teenage Bernard’s unrequited love).
A honeymoon period ensues as we see Bernard living happily with his new wife and baby. But the happiness doesn’t last long. Director Rudi Van Den Bossche employs more rapidly shifting scene transitions to convey the passage of months, then years. We see Bernard begin to neglect his family, even buying an apartment so he can concentrate on his writing (he’s writing a book on Yiddish literature, having already written a biography of the ill-fated Yiddish poet and songwriter, Mordechai Gebirtig).
Poor neglected Suzanne turns to drink.
Evelien, now grown into a beautiful girl, witnesses their violent fights.
The marriage deteriorates, Suzanne’s father whisks his daughter away to South Africa, and Bernard becomes sole guardian of Evelien.
During the continuing police interrogation, which provides the cues for a succession of flashbacks into Bernard’s past, it transpires that the murder victim is Moshe’s son, Doctor Daniel Grinsberg. A possible motive for his murder is still unclear.
Bernard has been given his Olivetti 82 typewriter in the hope that he will be more forthcoming about the circumstances leading up to Daniel’s murder and his likely involvement (given that he was arrested at the scene with a knife wound to his hand).
Significance is given to a piece of music (a Tango) referred to by Bernard in his typewritten statement. Why these two policeman latch onto this is never satisfactorily explained, however their uncanny detective instinct is proven correct when it transpires that this erotically charged dance is symbolic of Bernard’s seduction and abuse of his own daughter.
The grown-up Evelien (Sara Vertongen) is interviewed and reluctantly tells all (but possibly not everything) to the two policemen—and reveals the incestuous nature of her relationship with her father—and worse still, how both father and mother implored her to keep it a secret, offering her Bernard’s apartment as a reward for her silence.
Conveniently for the plot, and in the interests of tying up loose ends, Evelien moves into her father’s apartment and begins an affair with Daniel Grinsberg (the murder victim). No sooner has Daniel made her pregnant than he packs his bags, planning to leave her for a new life in Israel (motive thus established).
Disturbed by this turn of events (and who can blame her) Evelien trashes the apartment while Daniel is soaking in a hot tub, throwing the eponymous Olivetti 82 typewriter to the floor in the process …
This marks the climax of the movie as Evelien picks up a kitchen knife and proceeds to stab her lover to death. Thus we realise the only decent thing Bernard ever did for his daughter (perhaps) was to have taken the rap for Daniel’s murder.
At the conclusion of this sorry saga we see Bernard in prison, once again reunited with his typewriter, which has been miraculously resurrected (without the help of Old Moshe who has since died of natural causes).
What’s left unclear is whether Bernard is serving time for incest, or serving time for murder and incest.
It’s meant to be a classic tale of how the abused becomes the abuser, but the changes in Bernard as he moves through childhood, then adolescence, then into adulthood aren’t properly addressed.
I felt for Bernard the young boy in the first quarter of the movie, then felt nothing for Bernard the youth (in the very brief duration he appeared), then felt nothing but contempt for Bernard the appalling adult. That was the idea I suppose.
Despite a strong beginning, this movie was disappointing and unpleasant to watch. A question I asked myself is why the plot device of a typewriter was necessary in the first place?
In the end I suspect Olivetti may have regretted their participation. I know I did.