Paul Verhoeven goes 19th-century to flesh out Neel Doff's rags-to-riches memoirs, yet fears of the director dipping into Merchant-Ivory period tastefulness have been blasted long before Monique Van de Ven spots the rock-hard erection about to deflower her as shadow puppetry. She and her dirt-poor clan find their new rat-infested Amsterdam home not that huge an improvement from their previous hole, so it's up to the young daughters to put food on the table. Vivacious Van de Ven gives laundering a go, but since she cannot go one shift without dunking a razzing co-worker's head into the caustic suds, it's not long before she discovers her yummy bod as her meal ticket, first exploited in the whorehouse where her porcine sis works; from there it's but a step to the pavements, at least until she bumps into ambitious society heel Rutger Hauer, Van de Ven's match in sexual athleticism from Turkish Delight. Verhoeven and his writer, Gerard Soeteman, raid Doff's novelette for squalor, bodily fluids and overall bad manners, though rampant carnality remains the motif -- indeed, sex is just as ubiquitous in corseted 1881 Holland as in the modern Amsterdam of Verhoeven's earlier box-office hit, yet the vigorous fucking which signaled chldlike innocence in the previous film here curdles harshly into whoring, the basis for exploitation upon which informs the plot's every relationship. Whether it is her body (traded for TB medicine) or her image (sold in a model shop), the heroine quickly becomes schooled in the politics of sex, and Verhoeven is boldly upfront about the mechanics -- his editing segues from her inaugural john to a butcher slicing a side of beef. Reviewers can dismiss it as mindless softcore romping all they want, yet in the end Van de Ven is there for the daring vampiristic finale, drained of her potential radicalism, having learned all to well to "stoop to conquest." With Andrea Domburg, Jan Blaaser, Eddie Brugman, and Hannah de Leeuwe.
--- Fernando F. Croce