Lisa Schwarzbaum
April 17, 1998 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Character

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
performer
Fedja Van Huet, Jan Decleir
director
Mike van Diem

We gave it a B-

What’s an Oscar winner in the Best Foreign Film category without the participation of a sad-faced little kid? This Dutch drama’s got one — but don’t expect Kolya-colored sweetness from Mike van Diem’s gloomy feature, a father-son struggle, set in early 20th-century Rotterdam, that howls and rages with Dickensian overtones, yet never really hooks onlookers. Based on a 1938 Dutch novel by Ferdinand Bordewijk and shot with a fondness for shadows, Character unfolds in flashback as a young man (Fedja van Huet) accused of murdering the city’s most heartless bailiff (Jan Decleir) tells the story of his miserable life while being interrogated: The accused had made his way from neglect and poverty to become a promising lawyer; the dead man is his tyrannical father. Human character, we learn, in ways Freud was writing about at the same time, is shaped by family conflicts like these. And sometimes, too, Oscars are won.

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