Sunday, October 09, 2005


1998 Oscar Winner Best Foreign Language Picture

Dir: Mike van Diem

The Dutch steal a page from Hollywood in this story of an ambitious young man whose powerful father thwarts his upward mobility. And I mean steals from Hollywood in a good way; there is a sense of conventionality that one does not associate with the Continent, where high metaphor can sometimes override a good orchestral swell at an emotional plot point. The whole movie has a "Road to Perdition" feel; winter overcoats and shafts of light streaming through the broken windows of abandoned waterfront buildings and silent men moving about their dark business.

An evil local bailiff fathers a child out of wedlock. Out of resentment, the mother refuses marriage and the boy grows up with no knowledge of his father. Once the truth is made known to the young man, he vows to succeed without his father's help. The story is told as a flashback as the movie opens with our hero under suspicion for the bailiff's murder. Was he able to break free of the father's influence, or did he succumb to frustration and kill the man?

The movie is technically very good, beautifully playing with light and shadow. The acting is fine, except perhaps for the wild eyed lead (who is a dead ringer for Robert Downey, Jr.) who overdoes the whole "no one's going to tell help me, I'm gonna make it, by golly!" routine. The supporting cast is quite good, especially Victor Low as the ambitious young man's mentor. Low has a very cool underbite that is worth watching the movie to see.

The movie is slow in the beginning, but the ending is rather satisfying. I am having a hard time reacting to this one; it would be a very respectable is not brilliant movie if filmed in the US (a la Perdition, actually). Very accessible to the American taste and accomplished in its own right.

Very good but not transcendent. I recommend it, but not highly.



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 10/10/2005 01:55:00 AM that...

Not to sound anti-Hollywood (remember, I actually watch Spielberg films), but it seems that most of the recent Oscar winning foreign films are very much in the narrative-heavy Hollywood mode. Unfortunate.

Truffant was the most "Hollywood" of the French new wave folks (his films had coherent narrative), but his films did not feel "Hollywood." I like that balance. He made great films and could star in Close Encounters.