I saw Schnitzelparadies (‘Schnitzel Paradise’, in case you hadn’t guessed), last Friday. It was Holland’s biggest box-office hit in 2005. Nordip (Mounir Valentyn), a young guy from a Moroccan family, is our hero. He lives in a drab Dutch town with his wastrel brother and devout Muslim paterfamilias, who runs a small grocery.
Nordip got fine grades and could go to medical school, which would please his father no end. However, he needs to find himself, and decides he can do this only by taking a job in the kitchen of the local restaurant/hotel, "The Blue Vulture." Its mainstay is Schnitzel, the fast food of Northern Europe. There he falls in with a motley crew of sweating, profanity spewing service-industry stereotypes: the portly stoner boss, two fellow immigrants who speak a heavily-accented Dutch hipster slang (liberal use of proper English words such as "fucking" "cool" and "shit"), a half-mad, mohawked Serbian butcher, and the refulgently gorgeous Agnes (Bracha van Doesburgh), the hotel owner’s daughter.
Need I add that she falls for the earnest, curly-haired young immigrant’s son with the souful eyes? Obligatory multicultural misunderstandings ensue. How can Nordip (whom everyone calls ‘Nordil’, presumable because it sounds Dutcher) explain this love to his father, who is so devout that he has a giant illuminated plug-in picture of the Golden Dome Mosque ( a running visual gag) hanging on his living-room wall? How will Agnes explain the steamy details to her properly petty-bourgeois Dutch dad? I wasn’t all that interested in the answers to these questions. None of the characters rises very far above ethnic stereotype, and there are plenty of big gaps in the plot — the biggest of which is Nordip’s decision to explore his inner Nordip not by hiking the Moroccan desert but by scraping slime-encrusted plates — a job so degrading he has to hide it from his father by pretending to work in a library.
No, the movie doesn’t make sense, and the ending is egregiously tacked-on. However, it’s got a certain goofy, slapdash charm. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the director, Martin Koolhoven, got his start in music videos, since none of the scenes seems to last for more than 20 seconds, and the soundtrack is intrusive, in a funkily upbeat way. There are also some amusing gags. At one point, Nordip sees two swarthy immigrant types snatch a purse and runs after them, with the fearsome Dutch police not far behind. They take one look at Nordip and, recognizing him for the nebbish he is, leave him alone. Surely this is the first scene in which a young minority male looks vaguely disappointed not to have been harassed by the cops. The crew of kitchen galley slaves also thinks up plenty of satisfyingly disgusting hi-jinks involving schnitzel, bodily fluids, and cigarettes.
A family-friendly comedy can’t hurt once in a while. Also, a light-hearted multikulti film is a nice relief from the normal tone of the European immigration debate — a mixture of soapy earnestness and white-knuckle, stock-up-on-canned-foods doom-mongering. The principal message of this glorified after-school special is that most of our swarthier neighbors live lives pretty much like ours and are decent folks. Even if they sometimes spit in the schnitzel batter.