Character | Chicago Reader

Character

This Oscar-winning 1997 first feature by Dutch filmmaker Mike van Diem presents a complex and occasionally brutal story of a father and son, set in 1920s Rotterdam. It opens with a young man confronting and apparently murdering his court-bailiff father, an iron-willed sadist who takes pleasure in evicting families; as the son is interrogated by police, the film unfolds in flashbacks that begin before his birth. The cinematography is lush, Jan Decleir is superb as the stony father, and some of the smaller moments—a shot of the father's back as he abandons his son—are affecting. But the thunderous sound track and overcalculated images attempt to generate a grandeur not sustained by the narrative: I kept expecting World War II to break out. In Dutch with subtitles. 125 min.

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