Flesh + Blood (1985):
(The Rose and the Sword)

Medieval times, Paul Verhoeven-style. Making his English-language debut, the Dutch provocateur uses the plot's Dark Ages setting to allow the debauched appetites marking his earlier films to flow freely. Set in early 16th-century Western Europe, the story follows mercenary Rutger Hauer and his barbaric entourage (including fallen cleric Ronald Lacey and tongue-wagging bawd Susan Tyrrell) who, betrayed by their king, kidnap golden-tressed maiden Jennifer Jason Leigh, the virginal (though far from innocent) bride promised to the prince (Tom Burlinson). The title equation could serve to illustrate any of Verhoeven's works, and if the instincts of the people in Turkish Delight and Spetters were animalistic, here they're downright bestial -- the film delights in unbridled sexuality, pestilence, Crusades-like fervor, viscera, and the vivid physical detail of a spit-lubricated deflowering or a game of footsy played during the lewdest of suppers. Nobody will confuse these Middle Ages with Bresson's, though Verhoeven, kicking the movie off with merry dabs of blasphemy (Hauer is introduced munching down Eucharist like cookies before goin' pillagin'), is almost as interested in the spiritual erupting into the palpably corporeal. Does God actually manifest Himself in the raucous finale, or is that the filmmaker capping the picture's corrosive view of humanity with his own thunderbolts? Either way, Verhoeven managed to set up camp in Hollywood without compromising the nastiness of his vision. Written by Verhoeven and Gerard Soeteman. With Jack Thompson, Fernando Hilbeck, Brion James, and Kitty Courbois.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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