Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
close up photo of a woman and mans faces

Franz Zwartjes, the Director of Madness


The master of Dutch experimental cinema Franz Swartjes produced a large body of work that is barely remembered today and explicitly visualized his traumas and obscene obsessions.

Franz Zwartjes’ films adhere to the generalized emergence of so-called experimental cinema in the 1970s. Distanced from the conventional narrative of classical and commercial movies, experimental cinema sought to exploit the visual virtues of the medium to the maximum. The eccentricity of experimental cinema obeys the need of the post-war generation to express its longing for freedom and change.

In this context, the work of Zwartjes is paradigmatic. Wrapped up in a halo of mysticism and the heir of the author’s admiration for mystical and esoteric texts, from Vedanta to Eckhart, the visual experimentation of the Dutch director breaks down the barriers of moral convention. In the way of a psychoanalytical ritual, Swartjes’ films play out and reaffirm some of his personal traumas and nightmares.

The death of his father and his early contact with mental institutions were experiences that remained emblazoned on his singular visual world. The director recalled an anecdote that was revealing to him: in one of his first visits to a mental hospital, Zwartjes was a fascinated witness to a strange scene. A man greeted him cordially, stood up and, without changing his attitude, urinated. He was suddenly handed the idea that would inform all of this work – madness and the absolute freedom of behavior.

In one of his early works, Anamnesis, Zwartjes creates a scene of a claustrophobic romantic relationship in which possession, fetishism and violence join forces in an intimate and fatal game. The anamnesis or immersion in memory also makes reference to the clinical term used to describe the material provided by the patient to the doctor. Love, sex, memories and madness mix together in this mysterious film.

Considered one of his best works, Spectator is a reflection on a visual approach to the erotic act. As in Peeping Tom by Michel Powell, the camera becomes a scrutinizing and phallic element that intervenes in the relationship between a man and a woman, as both a barrier and an engine of excitement. The radical chiaroscuro, the surprising use of edits and the persuasive soundtrack give the film the hypnotic atmosphere of a nightmare.

A Fan, Birds, One, Anamnesis, Pentimento, Spectator, Bedsitters… Zwartjes’ prolific work is touched by the same obsession: sex, the woman’s body, affectionate relationships, madness, hospitals… all dealt with from a profoundly visceral, irreverent and hyperbolic point of view.

Related Articles