A very interesting feature by director Erik van Zuylen, his first in some fifteen years, based on the novel "The Mystery of the Sardine" (1985) by the Polish-English writer Stefan Themerson. Apparently, the director adapted the novel into a screenplay right after it was published, some twenty years ago, but due to the usual difficulties in raising sufficient funds we had to wait until 2005 for this movie to be finally realized.
Tim Boerhave (probably an allusion to the famous eighteenth-century Dutch scholar Herman Boerhaave) is a professor in philosophy. One day he watches a dog coming out of the water with a can of sardines tied to his neck. The can of sardines explodes. Tim survives but loses both his legs. After the initial shock he retreats to a secluded place on a small island in the northern part of the country, trying to figure out who could have done this.
Contrary to what the title might suggest this film doesn't work that well as a mystery. The focus is mainly on the subsequent difficulties he has to cope with in his marriage after the attack and the acceptance of his handicap and being an invalid for the rest of his life. Risky material for a feature film but fine performances throughout by a solid cast of veteran actors make it work. The film has plenty of thought-provoking observations and nice intellectual bon-mots, but the overall outcome is a little uneven, especially with the two children in the film. Their twelve year old daughter (Elske Rotteveel) develops a relationship with a boy of the same age she has met on the island. Their conversations are mostly about highbrow topics in philosophy, which is simply annoying. It is not very credible for children this age having conversations like this. As a result the acting in these scenes is quite static. They don't seem to understand the far too adult lines they're saying. It's not their fault. Their material should have been written better. By any means the movie is beautifully shot on some stunning locations (on the "Waddeneilanden") with first class cinematography.
One final note on the sorry state of film distribution in the Netherlands and this film in particular. To my knowledge it was only shown at a few small art house theaters, after it was shown at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and the Dutch Film Festival in Utrecht . This is clearly not a film for all audiences but despite its flaws it clearly deserves wider exposure. Perhaps it will get another chance at some festivals or theaters in other countries. A challenging film but well worth the effort.
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