Monday, May 16, 2011

The Oedipal Tale Of The Netherlands: Character Engages!

The Good: Plot, Character, Narrative technique, Cinematography, ACTING!
The Bad: Pacing
The Basic: Surprisingly good, this Dutch film is a period piece that follows a coming of age of a boy and the father who seeks to be overthrown.

Occasionally, there's a film that deserves the Best Picture Oscar and it actually gets nominated and wins. I suppose I feel lucky: American Beauty (reviewed here!) was a recent Best Picture that deserved to win. It seems, however, that the Best Foreign Film tends to be more consistently true. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which deserved to win and did and so did Character back in 1997. Occasionally, the Academy gets things right.

Character focuses on Jacob Katadreuffe. He has been arrested for the murder of Dreverhaven, a feared court bailiff. Dreverhaven was the man responsible for enforcing court ordered evictions. Captured and interrogated, Jacob reveals the story of his life.

Jacob's story begins with Dreverhaven, how one night he seduced his housekeeper, Joba. Joba leaves while pregnant, refusing to marry Dreverhaven after Jacob is born and he spends a year proposing each month. Jacob grows up poor with Joba, a social outcast. It leads him to a fight where he promises himself to never lose control like that again. That actually becomes important, though it didn't seem it at the time.

Jacob grows up and becomes interested in the law when Dreverhaven tries to bankrupt Jacob. There he meets De Gankelaar, a lawyer, who sees his potential. From that point on, the story follows Jacob's training as a lawyer, De Gankelaar's support and Dreverhaven's apparent attempts to thwart Jacob leading up to where the film began and resolving the investigation.

The Dutch film is truly a magical attempt to reconstruct the Oedipal myth. That is, the villainous Dreverhaven's challenges to his illegitimate son are easily interpreted as the father's desire to be overthrown by the son. In this case, Dreverhaven wants Jacob to overcome his poor heritage and "take the throne," so to speak.

The title of Character is perfect; the film focuses on the development of a man. It truly is a coming of age film. Ironically, it's not a terribly successful - in a classic sense - coming of age. Jacob rises to Dreverhaven's challenge, but not quite (I'm not ruining the ending). He does not undergo the classic first sexual experience, he does not get drunk. He does, however, develop academically and emotionally.

The strength of the characters and the film comes in the defying of such expectations. We want to see Jacob develop, but it's nice to see his story unfold in ways not typical. This is not an American film and it's a refreshing change from the usual droll fare the U.S. is internationally known for.

The characters are all enhanced by the acting. Fedja van Huet is wonderful as Jacob. His face is so amazingly expressive, his vocal expressionism is so precise and real. Jan Decleir is the obvious star as the wicked - and wickedly good - Dreverhaven. His fearful dreams are perfectly acted and his look of horror and surprise in the mirroring scene in reality, where he realizes he is unchallenged, is so perfect. The real scene stealer is Victor Low as De Gankelaar. His underbite and soft-spoken manner adds so much to the usual "role" of the supporting mentor. He's fabulous.

And the film is very easy to watch. Tamar van den Dop is a beautiful quasi-love interest for Huet's Jacob. The camera angles are nice, the lighting flattering and the scenery is beautiful.

The only issue is the pacing. The film gains momentum but it takes some time. It's not a terribly serious issue, but it's enough that it took me a while to get into the film.

For other foreign films, check out my reviews of:
The Last Emperor
Memoirs Of A Geisha
The Red Violin


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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