Eye For Film >> Movies >> Character (1997) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
This is a proper story, with a beginning, middle and end. It is also a murder mystery, a family saga and a tale of retribution. It has the breadth and feel of something special.
The place is Rotterdam, the period 1920s. Dreverhaven (Jan Decleir), the ruthless city bailiff, dedicates his life to his work. He is a cold, dispassionate man, with no friends and buried feelings. One night, unexpectedly and without a word, he takes his secretary, Joba (Betty Schuurman), to bed. The result, after a snatched half hour - it never happens again - is Katadreuffe (Fedja van Huet), who will not know his father, as Joba refuses marriage and money, keeping him well away.
The film follows the boy's life, from strict poverty to a job with a law firm, culminating in his attack on Dreverhaven. Joba's treatment of him, as he grows up, is undemonstrative and silent. Only when Jan Maan (Hans Kesting) comes to the house as a lodger does his real education begin. Jan is a communist, who encourages Katadreuffe to improve his situation, to read and to study and to strive for better things.
Like a spirit of darkness, Dreverhaven haunts his son's progress. Katadreuffe hates his father, rejects the ties that bind. Only at the end is there direct communication, by which time the bailiff is isolated and alone and Katadreuffe on the brink of a glittering career.
Van Diem retains an intensity throughout, as Katadreuffe emerges from his mother's oppressive influence into a world of opportunity and exploitation. The actors perform with admirable restraint in an atmosphere that cuts holes in your heart. The film is beautiful to look at, although possibly too long. As a debut for writer/director van Diem, impressive is too patronising a word.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001