To Play or To Die is a powerful psychological drama. Kees is an introverted boy who attends an all boy Dutch school where powerful bullies and sadomasochistic games are the stock in trade. Kees is fascinated by the extrao... more »rdinarily handsome Charel, ringleader of the tormentors. Seeking to turn the tables and stem his victimization, Kees invites Charel back to his house when his parents are away. His plan is to take revenge but Charel gets the upper hand. So begins a difficult and painful pas de duex with surprising results. To Play or Die recalls the memories of lonesliness and victimization familiar to any gay teen, and turns them into an intense and well made thriller. The film is based on a story by Anna Blaman and marks the feature film debut of Frank Krom, former assistant to Paul Verhoeven« less
Frank Krom's impressively doom-laden Dutch drama - based on a short story by Anna Blaman, and running a mere 49 minutes - first appeared on VHS along with two other gay shorts under the umbrella title BOYS ON FILM VOL. 2., before being released on DVD by indie distributor Water Bearer. The film is a grim, unyielding examination of teenage emotions, played out against the stark backdrop of a Dutch boys' school.
Krom's screenplay focuses on the plight of Kees (Geert Hunaerts), a bright, handsome kid, crippled by shyness, whose life is devastated by a group of school bullies. Nevertheless, Kees is attracted to the ringleader Charel (Tjebbo Gerritsma), a beautiful thug whose macho posturing is little more than a show for his like-minded circle of friends. Kees invites him back to his (Kees') home when his parents are away, ostensibly to take revenge and seduce the older boy, but Charel's inability to drop the pretence and succumb to Kees' infatuation leads to a painful conclusion for them both. Or does it?
Beautifully photographed in muted colors by Nils Post (an accomplished cinematographer who also shot the highly controversial FOR A LOST SOLDIER in 1992), the film takes place in an emotionally desolate world where the characters are unable to connect with one another in any kind of meaningful context. Gerritsma and Hunaerts are superb as tormentor and tormented, respectively, with Hunaerts in particular giving a truly committed performance, especially towards the end of the film during a moment of (non-explicit, non-salacious) sexual candor.
TO PLAY OR TO DIE is NOT homophobic, as some have suggested; it's simply unwilling to play the Hollywood game of providing its viewers with easy answers and a neat resolution. Gay filmmakers have a responsibility to depict the broad range of experiences which affect their community, and that means confronting the harsh realities of their daily lives as well as their triumphs over adversity. Some gay men are driven to tragic extremes by circumstances beyond their control, and failure to address these issues on film would make for a very one-sided view of an extremely complex subject. As such, the film may not be a pleasant experience for some, but it dares to be bleak and uncompromising when others might have hidden behind wish-fulfilment fantasies. That's honesty, not homophobia.
In any event, Krom's rich visual style distinguishes the film from many of its American counterparts, and the expert editing (by Krom and Sander Vos) maintains a keen sense of rhythm amidst the slow-burning tensions inherent in the drama. Incredibly, Krom (who was once an assistant to Paul Verhoeven) doesn't appear to have directed anything since, and his subsequent involvement in filmmaking has been relegated to technical support only. That's a real shame, because TO PLAY OR TO DIE seemed to herald a bright new talent on the European movie scene, especially in light of the New Queer Cinema movement which emerged from the US shortly after this film was made, boosting the production of gay-themed movies on an international scale. "
Homophobic rubbish! - The worst possible rating
Neil R. Maloney | Melbourne, Victoria Australia | 12/13/1999
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I usually make an effort to catch any gay themed movies that come my way, but in the case of this film I'm very sorry I wasted the 50 minutes or so watching it. Don't waste your time with this homophobic piece of rubbish. Watch Beautiful Thing for a much more positive depiction of how a young man comes to terms with being gay."
Very powerfull drama
Sven Ona | Kopenhagen, Denmark | 04/14/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I thought To play or to die was an exelent movie, wich caught my attention fully. Great performances of the young actors and beautifuly filmed. I didn't consider it to be homophobic, but more as a tragedy of a young guy who is caught in complete loneliness, fighting his way out. Having no friends at all, the beautiful and at the same time brutal guy from his class is his only challenge. I can recommend this film strongly."
Sven Ona | 08/01/1999
(2 out of 5 stars)
"What is most surprizing about this short (50 min) film is that it was made in 1991. One would have thought that by then we had gone beyond the 'pre-Maurice' stage of sociological development. E.M. Forster's book could not be published in his lifetime because it's ending did not involve imprisonment or death for the gay couple! This film would have been much more interesting and complex if the boy's love-object could have overcome his school-boy homophobia--even if in private--and there was at least a moment of joy. But this is simplistic: there is no joy and not one moment of understanding for anyone. It does, however, beg the question: is there still rampant and dangerous homophobia in schools today? I think we all know the answer to that one, Matthew Shepard."
Great personal impact
lonelyboy | Florida, USA | 07/18/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"very familiar with the situation of Kees during my youth in The Netherlands,its almost too emotional for me to watch .....Thanks to God i am still alive. "