Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Karakter; drama, The Netherlands / Belgium, 1997; D: Mike van Diem, S: Fedja van Huêt, Jan Decleir, Betty Schuurman, Victor Löw

The Netherlands during the 20s of the 20th century. Dreverhaven, an egoistical bailiff, has been found dead and stabbed, and thus the police interrogates one suspect, the young Jacob Katadreuffe. Jacob tells them his life story: he was born when his mother, Joba, was raped by Dreverhaven when she was his maid. Joba raised Jacob in poverty, refusing Dreverhaven's money or support. As a grown up, Jacob hanged out with Communists and tried to escape from poverty by opening a tobacco store, but became a victim of a fraud because a seller sold him the boxes filled with straw. Jacob finds out his loan came from Dreverhaven, so he decides to study law to pay his debts. When it is found out he knows English, he is employed in the office by Mr. Gankelaar. After graduation, Jacob had a fight with Drevehaven, but then left. The police concludes that Dreverhaven committed suicide, and also that he left his entire inheritance to Jacob.

The director's Mike van Diem's adaptation of the eponymous novel is a refreshingly quality made film from the Dutch cinema, establishing a tight pace without any empty walk that engages the viewers and never let's down despite its running time of 120 minutes. "Character" establishes an interesting father-son relationship, contemplating how their stubbornness of their character, their refusal to give in and try to change leads to an unavoidable crash, gaining a lot thanks to excellent actors, some neat stylistic touches (in one sequence, a judge is about to slam his hammer in the background, but stops and is interrupted when Dreverhaven's hand slams a pedestal in the foreground, since he is angry at the "postal war" between himself and Joba, who refuses to accept his money through the mail) and an occasional strong, electrifying line (when Jacob finds out that he might lose a court case when he is informed that he owes a merely 15 guilder, his boss and friend, Mr. Gankelaar, immediately offers to donate that amount in order to save him. Jacob refuses and wants to give up outside the court, but then stops when Mr. Gankelaar shouts in front of all the people: "Who taught you this pointless self-punishment?! You will accept my money as a gift! Because someone who cannot accept a gift, cannot give anything back in return, either!"). An overall very well made, clever, elegant and ambitious film, except maybe for the rather shaky ending that was not quite thought out: the authors wanted to show that nothing in these characters is black and white (that Drevehaven is not completely bad, since he donated all his money to Jacob; that Joba, the mother, is not a "saint" since she stubbornly refused to talk things out which ruined her life and the lives of others; that Jacob became heartless in his goal himself) yet this "character twist" turned out rather contradictory, inconsistent and confusing, since some of the previously established details do not add up.


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