L’ami Hollandais - Pieter Jan Smit

English film title:
52 minutes (television version) & 72 minutes (theatre version)

About the friendship between Jef Last and André Gide and their trip through the Soviet Union; with plenty archive material from the thirties.

The friendship between the world-famous French writer André Gide and the Dutch writer and Communist Jef Last provides a picture of the political and cultural climate in Europe in the 1930s.
During a journey they made together through the Soviet Union, Jef Last was increasingly influenced by the critical attitude of André Gide and came to the conclusion that there was no point in clinging on to an ideal that demanded increasing personal sacrifices. In the end he broke off his contacts with the Communist Party.

The idea that Communism could make the world a better place appears ridiculous now. Given the dismal failure of the Soviet Union who could have possibly have placed faith in it? But the truth is that it was not just the “stupid” Russians who were taken in, many of the West’s brightest and most morally courageous people nurtured the hope that the Soviet ideal would lead to a better future. However misguided they were, the strength of their idealism is a central part of the heritage of the whole Western World. “L’Ami Hollandais” is a film about betrayal, about how people cope when they see what they most believe in destroyed by those they had placed their faith in. It is also the story of how during difficult times friendship can be the only protective force available to people.

“L’Ami Hollandais” centers on the friendship between a young Dutch communist and writer, Jef Last, and the French writer André Gide, the most famous writer of his age. To understand the film it doesn’t matter whether one is familiar with them or not. Nor is the subject matter particularly literary. We follow the development of their relationship and experience through their eyes the fascinating turmoil of these few years preceding the Second World War.

The first part of the film is set in a Paris flooded with refugees from Nazi Germany. Last was 36 and Gide 64 when they met. They were both gay. Resolute anti-fascists, they were of the forefront of the cultural debate, which promoted the Soviet Union as the potential saviour of Europe.

The second part of the film shows how they experienced the Communist dream at first hand. In the summer of 1936, Gide was invited to the Soviet Union, and he asked Last to accompany him. Travelling from Leningrad to Moscow, and then through the Caucasus on to Georgia and the Black Sea, they were shown all the sites political pilgrims were expected to see. Doubt and a sense of unease grew after they began to feel that their hosts were preventing them from moving freely and evading their questions. During the journey the civil war in Spain had broken out. They returned to the West, just as the verdict of Stalin’s first great show trial was announced.

The final part takes us to the Spanish Civil War, where Jef Last was in the first wave of volunteers willing to risk their lives defending the Republic against Franco. While Last was at the center of fighting for Madrid, Back from the USSR, Gide’s account of their visit to the Soviet Union was published. The book was a huge success. It focused on the personality cult surrounding Stalin and documented how the individuality of the Russian people was being suppressed. It was a watershed in Western thinking about the Soviet Union. It also put Last in an impossibly dangerous situation. The Soviet Union was virtually the only country to supply the Spanish Republic with weapons. Criticizing the Soviet Union was regarded as support for fascism, and in war there is no room for discussion. Gide was branded a traitor and a fascist. But Last stood by his friend to the end, and in so doing made a choice which opened his eyes to what he really believed in.

voices: Gerardjan Rijnders, Cas Enklaar, Hans Goedkoop, Pieter Jan Smit, Cyril Bibas, Gérard Duquet, Nadir Amara

script & direction: Pieter Jan Smit
camera: Bert Haitsma, Giorgi Beridze, Abdelah Zouhir
animation: Adriaan Lokman
editing: Teun Pfeil
sound design: Yves Renard
music: Ivan Georgiev
co-producer: Cyril Bibas
producer: Digna Sinke

this film is a co-production of SNG Film with Entre Chien et Loup, TROS & RTBF

this film is financially supported by:
Netherlands Film Fund
Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Communauté Française de Belgique et des Télédistributeurs Wallons
YLE Teema Ateljee