6. Katie Tippel / Keetje Tippel (1975)
Inspired by the true life account of Neel Doff, the life and times of a young woman (Monique van de Ven) trying to escape her family’s impoverishment by any means necessary.
This one is pretty hard-going but the few moments of happiness in Keetje’s life are all the more impactful in comparison to the bleakness of the rest of it.
The most expensive Dutch film of the time, painstaking effort goes into recreating a bustling but grimy 19th century Amsterdam and yet Monique van de Ven is the main reason to see it, her luminous, heartbreaking titular performance cementing her as one of the great Dutch actors.
Recommended for you: Where to Start with Michael Haneke
5. Black Book (2006)
A German Jewish woman (Carice van Houten) becomes an agent of the Dutch resistance and masquerades as a socialite to get close to Nazi leaders, particularly a brutal SS Commander (Sebastian Koch).
Black Book makes for a great companion piece and alternative perspective telling of the same story as Verhoeven’s Soldier of Orange from three decades earlier. Carice van Houten (‘Game of Thrones’) does a lot of the heavy-lifting here, her character Rachel / “Ellis” going through unimaginable trials and humiliation, and somehow still retaining her steadfast resilience and not giving in to despair.
Interestingly the film doesn’t end with the defeat of the Nazis, but continues for a stretch into the dark and chaotic aftermath of WWII in Europe, a time of scapegoating, false accusation, imprisonment and execution.
4. Elle (2016)
In the leadup to the release of a controversial video game, an executive at a media company (Isabelle Huppert) processes her trauma after being violently sexually assaulted by an unknown man in her own home.
“It happened. Why talk about it?”
For a while it looks like Verhoeven has matured beyond his worst instincts and won’t actually depict the awful sexual assault of Mèlanie, but he ends up filming several different versions of the scene as she runs through what happened, what may have happened, and what might have happened over and over again in her mind.
This ends up not coming across as exploitative as it might because we are given time with our protagonist and the complicated relationship she has had with trauma throughout her life. And, in the hands of Huppert, she takes control of her situation and defiantly fights back.