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Abel is a 1986 Dutch film by Alex van Warmerdam. It is a black comedy depicting a pretty dysfunctional family of three—a father, mother and son—who spend time bickering at each other. The son in particular is a manchild Hikikomori unable to leave the apartment.

Later, first the father and then the son meet a girl called Zus (Sister). Hilarity (black version) ensues.


This film provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: Male characters are named Abel and Victor while females are called Duif (dove) and Zus (sis, sister) which are not regular names.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Several instances of this. Lampshaded when Victor chases Abel on the escalator where people stand under unnatural angles.
  • Arc Words: For Duif those are "young, beautiful and able to get pregnant". She is anxious that her husband would start a romance with a woman described by these words.
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  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Zus say to Abel that she works as a teacher. No, as a model. No, in Naakte Meisjes (..."Naked Girls").
  • Brick Joke: During the conversation at the dinner table the father mentions a certain executive called De Beer. Later when he chases Abel they run into the conference room with the round table where that very De Beer is a participant in a meeting currently going on, and even voicing his opinion. It is somewhat lampshaded when the other executive addresses him by his name.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Abel does exactly that, calling his mother Duif and his father Victor. It is both for the purpose of black comedy and to show the lack of understanding (or too much of that on the part of his mother).
  • Character Development: Played with. Abel does not change very much in the end, he just hits his father with a bottle to protect his girl.
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  • Comically Missing the Point: Zus confesses to Abel that she works in Naakte Meisjes ("Naked Girls") which is the name of the peep-show. He asks whether that is an orphanage (for the naked girls). Of course he believes that those girls are naked because they are poor.
  • Driven to Suicide: Comically subverted for Duif who stands on the balcony apparently ready to jump off. Then the remaining three characters are distracted by their own shenanigans and when they turn their attention to the balcony Duif is not there. Of couse she immediately comes out from the part of the room where she for some moment remained unseen.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin The venue where Zus works is called Naakte Meisjes (meaning "Naked Girls").It is a peepshow.
  • Exposition: Interestingly the lack of it in the works of art is lampshaded by Victor. He says that he does not enjoy (and never watches) Westerns because it is never said who the parents of the character were and what happened to him in his past. It appears that films he saw totally lacked Expo Speak.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Choleric: Victor, the father
    • Phlegmatic: Abel, the son
    • Sanguine: Zus, the girl
    • Melancholic: Duif, the mother
  • Freudian Trio: This film has four characters in the second half when Zus has more screen time. However the first half is mostly about family antics.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Abel hits his father with a bottle to protect Zus.
  • Hairy Girl: Zus, played by Annette Malherbe, sports hairy armpits.
  • Incest Subtext: Even the relationship between Abel and Zus is not free of it as "Zus" means "Sis(ter)". To say nothing of the other relationships.
  • Iron Curtain: In this 1986 film the system on the other side of the curtain is mentioned. Victor tells Abel that people lack basically everything in Soviet Russia.
  • Jealous Parent: Victor is at times jealous of the relation between his son Abel and his wife Duif.
  • Lady in Red: Zus at times sports sexy red lingerie.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: Victor and his son Abel are extremely different. Victor is a busy man in suit. Abel is a hikikomori unable to leave the apartment.
  • Long List: Duif lists the drinks she can offer to Christine, the date arranged for the Hikikomori Abel. It is comically long.
  • Love at First Sight: The film invokes that Zus immediately falls for Abel. In real life van Warmerdam and Malherbe are spouses.
  • Love Triangle Basically this trope is applied to four characters. However the description of the trope says that four people are still allowed to be called that despite being a square. Actually this film pushes the trope Up to Eleven.
    • Abel and his father are both after Zus.
    • Of a more squicky nature: Duif and Zus are both after Abel. It is played for squicky black comedy in one scene set in Zus' apartment.
    • Even squickier: In one scene it is implied for Abel and his parents when Victor returns to see Abel sleeping in bed with Duif.
  • Manchild: Abel big time. He is nearing 32 but is afraid to leave his house. Interestingly his mother says that he has this phobia for 2 years while his father, less compassionate, corrects he has not been going out for 10 years. However he still does not mention whether he had been able to lead a regular life before and what happened 10 years ago.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: This trope is played straight for Duif when Abel moves in with Zus. She even moves the furniture in Zus' appartment which is very annoying.
  • Oedipus Complex Abel at times competes with his father for the attention of his mother.
  • Parental Incest: Several times it is quite strongly implied for Abel and his mother Duif.
  • The Reveal: On the morning of the first night when Abel was thrown out by his father, the viewer sees similarly grey figures walking the street. The motorcycle is parked in the middle of the shot. Later the owner starts it and rides away. It turns out that Abel slept under the motorbike for the night. For some time he continues to sleep and the passersby do not especially care.
  • Rooftop Confrontation: Subverted in the end during the chase of Abel by Victor. They both climb the stairs and arrive at the roof of an industrial building but when they are there they are too exhausted, especially the father who is obviously older. He sits down on the roof surface. Then Abel simply walks away.
  • Running Gag: Abel tries to cut the fly buzzing around him in half with the big scissors. In the end he succeeds.
  • Shear Menace: Subverted. Abel walks with shears but never uses them against a person.
  • Soft Glass: A window glass is shattered by the stuffed deer head thrown from below. It is implied that its horns did it.
  • Stalking Is Love: Zus implies it saying that girls like being peeped on. Well, she works in a peepshow so that might be professional.
  • Stylistic Suck: Abel's puppet show. It is extremely primitive though Zus does not resent it.
  • Sweater Girl: Zus becomes that in one scene when she wears Abel's sweater with fish print. That's how Abel's mother learns that Abel now lives with Zus.
  • Two-Act Structure:
    • The first half film is dedicated to the intra-family dynamics and is set mostly indoors in the apartment which Abel cannot leave.
    • In the second part he is expelled from the apartment by his father and film's attention shifts, it is now about the romance between Abel and Zus which both of Abel's parents try to thwart due to various motives.
  • Wimp Fight: The fight between Abel and his father, as both are weak and unskilled. The father is much older but the son is also not fit.

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