Tuesday, November 1, 2016

1997 Winner, Character


Director:  Mike van Diem

Distributed by: Sony Pictures

Released: April 1997

Country:  Netherlands

The character of the truly "bad father" is a classic of the movies.  I’m not just talking about fathers that give in and let the kid have his dessert without eating his peas, or grooming him to be a mafia don.  I’m talking about the kind of father that does everything to make the kid’s life miserable, beat the crap out of him, or even try to kill him.  Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy comes to mind.  What makes these bad dads so great is the pure evil within—they don’t hold back and they wear their badness right out there.  It’s what makes them great characters.

Our 1997 BFF winner Character begins with the introduction of the bad father character with a knife sticking out of his gut.  WellIt took three movies (not to mention three prequels) to get rid of Darth Vader.  So going in, we know we are headed for a full-on flashback:  How did this guy end up with a knife in his gut?  Who is that guy he had an argument with just before the knife was in his gut?  Why am I asking you?

Dreverhaven: Not the most hug-able guy in the world
And so here we go back in time to re-introduce our knife-gutted father.  His name is Dreverhaven, and he is some sort of important Dutch government official in the 1920’s. (Perhaps coincidentally, “vader” is Dutch for “father,” and the term will figure in prominently in the film at some point).     He seems to have the same sort of role as the Burgermeister Meisterburger had in the aptly named Sombertown, that of some kind of undefined autocrat.  And come to think of it, the place he’s in charge of isn’t much different than the Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town berg, gray and dreary and depressing and no toys anywhere.  One day, Dreverhaven tells his very drab-looking maid Joba (no, not the Hutt) he needs to see her for a sec in the kitchen; nine months later, out comes little Jacob.  Joba raises Jacob by herself and refuses Dreverhaven’s repeated unromantic marriage proposals over the years.
Burgermeister Meisterburger

In the Johnny Cash song A Boy Named Sue, written by Shel Silverstein, Sue’s dad claims he named the boy he abandoned as a baby with a girl’s name to toughen him up, saying, “I give ya that name and I said goodbye; I knew you'd have to get tough or die.”  Dreverhaven, the big-shot bureaucrat that he is, takes a different approach:  messing with him and trying to ruin his career at every turn throughout his life.  This guy makes the Burgermeister Meisterburger look like Ronald McDonald.
Luke, shall we have a catch?
The movie spends most of its time seeming to slowly walk us into tearful father/son hug territory.  Will Dreverhaven and Jacob “have a catch” at the end?  (In my part of the world, a father and son “play catch,” but wherever Ray Kinesella in Field of Dreams grew up, they “have a catch.”)  It seems unlikely, but then, for a minute, the Burgermeister Meisterburger enjoyed a moment of yo-yo with the future Santa, so you never know.

The Title:  Karakter. 

The Culture:  The movie is loosely based on a 1938 novel by Dutch writer Ferdinand Bordewijk.  Bordewijk wrote in a style called "New Objectivity," which means that he rejected idealism and romanticism.  The “character” of Dreverhaven is anything but romantic.  If 1920’s Netherlands is accurately portrayed in this brown/grey film, then a shakeup was a good idea.  Of course, I’m not sure World War II was the shakeup it needed.

Agenda Danger:  New Objectivity sucks.  I’d take a good old-fashioned rom-com over this. Okay, I don't think I'm willing to go that far.

Best Picture that year:  Titanic

My Big Fat Greek Wedding:  Go see this instead . . . KIDDING!
Rating:  The title of the film would seem to indicate that the plot of the film is less important than the stuff that comprises the individuals in the story.  But I never got a real handle on what drove Drevenhaven, only that he continually confounded his son for his entire life, when Jacob could have used a hug from him now and again.  As an art film, it works.  As a work of entertainment, it’s not worth the effort.

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