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Review: ‘Sex, Drugs & Bicycles’ weighs the pros and cons of going Dutch

Windmills in the Netherlands from the documentary "Sex, Drugs & Bicycles."
(Gravitas Ventures)

Returning to the scene of his 1994 documentary, “Sex, Drugs & Democracy,” filmmaker Jonathan Blank goes on another fact-finding mission to the Netherlands courtesy of “Sex, Drugs & Bicycles,” to determine if the Dutch really do have it so good.

Again taking a decidedly lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek approach to his investigation, Blank’s first-person account methodically points to the usual evidence, including universal healthcare, paid vacations, cannabis coffee shops and legalized prostitution but also suggests that it isn’t all windmills and tulips.

The Netherlands reputation for tolerance might date back to the Golden Age of the 17th century, but it’s a period that also happens to coincide with Dutch involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, a reminder of which is reflected by the country’s sizable Suriname population.

As educational and cultural sectors make an effort to better address that not-so-proud past, activists have also been grappling with Zwarte Piet, the folkloric assistant to St. Nicholas who is still celebrated with annual parades of white people in blackface.

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And, while the film was completed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Dutch government’s ill-fated, “herd-immunity” handling of the pandemic wouldn’t exactly be considered exemplary.

Still, when you consider the United Nations study that ranks Dutch kids as the happiest in the world (while adults rank sixth, well-ahead of 18th place U.S.), the Netherlands must be doing something right, and Blank’s generally breezy film, packed with playful Monty Pythonesque animations by Fiely Matias, effectively sums up the contented mood.

‘Sex, Drugs & Bicycles’

Not rated

Running Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Playing: Available on LinkTV through March 5


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