There was a time in the Netherlands during the 17th-century when tulips bulbs were the most priced items. Especially the bulbs with a tulip breaking virus that could produce a multicolored tulip. Those were traded at auction to the highest bidder. Tulip fever, set during that period, is a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and a Moliere comedy. But Tulip fever is more sensual. It stars Alicia Vikander as Sofia Sandvoort, the beautiful wife of rich tulip trader Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Sofia, who is much younger than her husband, is desperately trying to get pregnant and give Cornelis an heir, meaning a baby boy. And although there is no doubt that Cornelis loves his wife, he needs an heir and claims that in six month, if Sofia is not pregnant, he’ll have to find another wife. Still, he commissions young portraitist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint her portrait. At first van Loos is such a professional that he fails to notice the beautiful woman posing for him. He also does not see that Sofia would do anything to be noticed by him. And then it happens. Dane DeHaan’s blue-eyed piercing stares is what gives Tulip fever its most potent sensual moments. There is very little nudity in the film, and instead we get more of a romantic love-making than in most films. So they make love and wants to elope together. To make money van Loos goes into the tulip trading business. Meanwhile, Sofia’s maid and confidante, Maria (Holliday Grainger, who also narrates), gets pregnant from the fish monger (Jack O’Connell). The fish monger also went into the tulip trade shortly before he disappeared. And of course, Cornelis is totally unaware that any of this is happening. We are treated here to a fast paced film with enough plots to fill several films. None of these Masterpiece theatre lengthy conversations while sipping tea. The set and costume department have not tried to beautified the 1600s narrow streets of Amsterdam lounging some canals. They are dirty, full of fruits and fish sellers and unsavoury characters. You can almost smell the stench. Tulip fever is not what you would expect from a period comedy/drama. It’s so unusual that some reviewers have completely dismissed it. But to compare it to other period films would be a mistake. Yes, some of the plot is farfetched, but only if you judge it by a modern standard. I saw the film as a 17th-century saucy comedy, or an homage at the very least. It was not meant to be taken literally in a realistic way. There’s a character played by American comedian Zach Galifianakis. He’s a bizarre fit in that type of film, but he knows how to spread himself thin and doesn’t get in the way for most of the film. Dame Judi Dench has a small part as the Mother superior of an orphanage who also likes to grow tulips as a side business. Even when she is under playing, Dench reads her comic lines with a knife-like cutting edge. We’re then taken aback that so much snap can come out unannounced with such ease. That’s what you call perfect timing. I found Tulip fever amusing and beautiful to look at. I recommend.
Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach