Character

A man walks down a hallway, carrying a knife, a crazed look in his eyes. He approaches a desk, stabs the knife into the desktop, and addresses the man sitting behind the ‘throne.’ He leaves, comes back, then leaves again with a bloodied face. Within hours, he’s arrested for that man’s murder.

And that’s only the first ten minutes. I love that!

The movie is “Character,” directed by Mike van Diem, and winner of the Best Foreign Language film Oscar in 1997.

After that somewhat thrilling opening, the film dives into a structure I’m less thrilled with (it’s a fiction biopic, told in flashback), but I guess you can’t really drop the audience into the middle and then NOT go back to the beginning (but that would be a movie, good or bad, worth seeing).

Our hero is Jacob (Fedja van Hut), and as he tells his life story to the policemen interrogating him (the deceased man at the beginning was his father, Dreverhaven (Jan Decleir), a feared and uncompromising bailiff).

His mother, Joba (Betty Schuurman), worked for his father, and after one night of passion between the two, Jacob was conceived. Once Joba tells Dreverhaven about the baby, he doesn’t say anything, lets her walk out of her life, and the two of them make their son pay for that moment the rest of their lives.

The two of them are so stubborn in their love that while either refuses to budge from the patterns they’ve set for themselves, they also refuse to look at anyone else, making their lives an unnecessary tribute to love gone wrong.

Into this picture comes a little boy who doesn’t quite get his mother, or why he doesn’t have a father, and what he can do about either one of these facts.  When he matures, he does something about it, leaving his mother’s house for a doomed bid at business ownership, then a successful attempt at the legal profession, and engaging his father in a battle of wills over money and debts he was bound to fail.

Through all the stories, and incidents and social-climbing our young hero engages in, he unknowingly repeats his father’s pattern, acting too slowly and not taking the risk when it’s appropriate. Sure, his father is wealthy and successful, but he dies a bitter old man, alone and in the dark, with nothing but his badge to cling to, and Jacob only sees the full picture when his character has already been formed, when it’s too late to change what he has become.

As much as I can appreciate the story, and the journey, “Character” is a bit too cerebral for me; it’s realistic, I believe in the characters and in the acting and that there are people this foolish in real life, but at the end of the day, I didn’t really care so much what happened. It might be my fault, or the movie’s, but either way, it’s not something I would seek out again.

“Character” (1997)

Directed by Mike van Diem

Written by Mike van Diem, Laurens Geels, Ruud van Megen

Starring: Jan Decleir (Dreverhaven)

Fedja van Hut (Jacob)

Betty Schuurman (Joba)