Jos Stelling

With his film Mariken van Nieumeghen, filmmaker Jos Stelling raised Dutch guerrilla film to a new level. Pim de la Parra and Wim Verstappen had proven earlier with De minder gelukkige terugkeer van Joszef Katús naar het land van Rembrandt that conventions existed just to be overthrown, and that in principle, anyone could make a feature film (not just industry insiders). Stelling, however, had another way of interpreting this idea – an interpretation that relied on organisation, patience, goodwill and a unified vision. While Verstappen and De la Parra shot their first feature film within a few days, Stelling took more time.

In February 1972, after preparing for six years, Stelling – who was the film’s producer, director and screenplay writer – and a cast of 800 descended upon the Dutch village of Buren, where they would shoot Mariken van Nieumeghen for almost two years. Most of them – actors as well as technicians – were amateurs and volunteers. Up until the end of 1973, they sacrificed nearly all their weekends and free days to work on the film. Most of the filming took place in mud and rubbish, often in the freezing cold. ‘As long as it was brown and dirty, it was almost always authentic, too’. But all their hard work paid off: in 1975, Mariken van Nieumeghen was selected for the competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

‘People Don’t Matter’

The literary source for the film was a well-known 16th-century miracle play of the same name by an anonymous writer about a girl who lives with the devil for seven years. Initially there was hardly any dialogue in the script: ‘Personally, I think that someone who says nothing is fascinating,’ Stelling said. Much of the film was also shot without sound and Mies Bouhuys was brought in in a later stage to provide the characters with lines – lines that were often spoken off screen. It wasn’t about who said what. ‘Text is too big of a contribution for an actor,’ and ‘the actors are almost unimportant’. It was Stelling’s intention to convey a sense of ‘mediaeval anonymity’: ‘people don’t matter’.

Stelling regularly chose a historical period as the setting for his films in his later career as well. De vliegende Hollander takes place during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648), De pretenders is entirely set in a cafeteria in Utrecht in the early 1960s (specifically during the weekend that Marilyn Monroe died), and Rembrandt fecit 1669 focuses on the period in which the painter goes bankrupt and paints his last series of portraits.

‘We had a hundred people together in a country estate in Ghent’, said Stelling about the second feature film he directed, produced and wrote the script for, Elckerlyc, which also takes place during the middle ages. While this film was closely connected both thematically and visually with Mariken van Nieumeghen, the production strategy differed somewhat from the earlier film: Elckerlyc was shot – this time continuously – in only four weeks.


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