Directed By: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson
Tag line: "Betrayed by power. Corrupted by love. Bound by honor"
Trivia: The movie was awarded two prizes at the Dutch Film Festival (Best Picture and Best Director), but several jury members publicly attacked this decision afterwards, stating that the vote had not been unanimous
Set just after the Middle Ages, Flesh + Blood is unflinching in its depiction of what was a chaotic era in human history, and reminded me, in a way, of John Boorman’s Excalibur, another movie steeped in the darkness of its time period. Yet where Excalibur was, first and foremost, a fantasy film, Flesh + Blood is all too real, exploring a society cursed with plague, where battlefields were routinely drenched in blood, and women treated as little more than the spoils of war.
The year is 1501. Martin (Rutger Hauer), the leader of a band of mercenaries, has just been cheated out of his share of treasure by a nobleman named Arnolfini (Fernando Hillbeck). Seeking revenge, Martin and his men surprise Arnolfini on the open road and kidnap Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a young girl recently betrothed to Arnolfini’s only son, Steven (Tom Burlinson). Shortly after her capture, Agnes is raped by Martin, yet far from despising her attacker, she willingly gives herself to him, and spends every waking moment in his company. But is Agnes truly falling in love with Martin, or simply biding her time until she’s rescued?
Throughout his career, director Paul Verhoeven has never shied away from violence (his initial cut of Robocop was deemed too bloody by the MPAA, and assigned an X rating) or sex (1974's Turkish Delight also starred Rutger Hauer, who played an artist / sex addict), both of which are amply displayed in Flesh + Blood. In the film’s opening scene, Martin and his small army have broken through the gates of a walled city, leaving the remains of many enemy soldiers in their wake. Once victory is achieved, his troops turn to looting, and the city’s female population begs their conquerors not to rape them. But in these times, women were as much a prize as gold, and even members of the nobility, like Jennifer Jason-Leigh’s Agnes, weren’t above such treatment. When we’re first introduced to Agnes, she’s on her way to be married to Steven, and is so naïve that she has to ask her maid, Kathleen (Nancy Cartwright), how to behave when alone with a man. This innocence is shattered the moment she’s abducted, and it’s while being raped by Martin that Agnes learns the true power of her sexuality, which she uses from then on as a means of ensuring her safety.
Amidst all the gloom and depravity, Flesh + Blood is a very well-made period film, filled with action and featuring solid performances from its talented cast. Those easily offended by gratuitous violence (including rape) may want to think twice before seeing this movie, but if you have the stomach for it, Flesh + Blood is sure to entertain.