Business is Business

3 out of 5

Directed by: Paul Verhoeven

Business is Business is a very European film, and a very 60s / 70s film. It’s also Paul Verhoeven’s first feature – working with cinematographer Jan de Bont, with whom he would on his next few movies – although besides an occasional operatic use of framing and a general tonal bawdiness, that’s not necessarily something that draws a strong line from here to his later films. That said, it’s an entertaining romp (that being mostly what it is), and then notable for being a confident, debut work by a director who’s oeuvre absolutely would become notable.

Business is Business’ business is prostitution. Without a blink, and without any judgment – beyond a slapsticky ribbing regarding her clients’ requests – we’re introduced to Greet (Ronnie Bierman), a working woman who keeps quick tabs on how much each item of clothing she removes is costing a john, and totals it up via a punch calculator in the closet. Greet lives below fellow prostitute Nel (Sylvia de Leur) and her abusive boyfriend Sjaak (Jules Hamel). This violence is an element of the movie, but only as a passing tsk-tsk-abuse-is-bad glance; it otherwise gets a similar treatment as the sex, capping off scenes that perhaps start serious or risque – with clients, that takes the form of various roleplays – with over-the-top Benny Hill-ish humor. De Bont’s smooth framing and Verhoeven’s rolling tone, continuing from scene to scene without much commentary, prevent this from seeming in poor taste: the film affixes itself with a smile at the start and the continues forward like that, not letting the little things – cheating husbands, lack of money, lack of love – really get it down.

That latter bit does encourage the trajectory of the flick, which has Greet getting closer to Piet (Piet Römer), a client with whom she seems to genuinely enjoy her times between the sheets and who tries to Pretty Woman her a bit (though this isn’t Hollywood, and Greet stays true to her up front personality at all times), and Nel settling down with Bob (Bernhard Droog), a salesman unaware of her profession. In both cases, the women find dissatisfaction to a certain extent, but in both cases, they also seem to settle for that, rather finding a relative happiness in accepting the “business” of their lives.

This acceptance is one of the more interesting aspects of the movie, which, although poking fun at the various fetishes we witness, doesn’t seem to judge the people participating in them, and very much doesn’t judge the working women who are our focus. The flipside of that is that everything gets a light touch, with the loutish Sjaak played off as a Three Stooges aggressor, and the film not really digging into these gals’ lifestyles beyond a feathery romcom touch. Being that this is all rather fleeting, Business is Business is likely to be watched solely for the Verhoeven connection – making it more interesting, though not some holy grail of his works – but it’s also, thankfully, entertaining enough in its own right.