Character (1997 movie)

From Academic Kids

Character (Dutch title Karakter) is a 1997 Dutch film, based on a best-selling novel by Ferdinand Bordewijk and directed by Mike van Diem. The film was winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film stars Fedja van HuÍt, Jan Decleir, and Betty Schuurman.

It is the 1920s in the Netherlands. Dreverhaven, a dreaded bailiff, is found dead, with a knife sticking out of his stomach. The obvious suspect is Jacob Willem Katadreuffe (van HuÍt), an ambitious young lawyer who worked his way up from poverty, always managing to overcome Dreverhaven's personal attacks against him. Katadreuffe was seen leaving Draverhaven's office on the afternoon of the murder. He is arrested and taken to police headquarters, where he reflects back on the story of his long relationship with Dreverhaven, who, police learn, is also Kattdreufe's father.

The story began when Katadreuffe's taciturn mother, Joba (played by Schurmaan), worked as a housekeeper for Dreverhaven. During that time, they had sex only once, but Joba became pregnant and left her employer to make a living for herself and her son. Time and again she rejected Draverhaven's offer to marry her and provide the child with a home.

Even as a child, Katadreuffe's path crosses with Draverhaven, often with dire consequences. When he is arrested for a boyish prank and tells the police that Dreverhaven is his father, Dreverhaven refuses to recognize him as his son. When, as a young man, he unwittingly takes a loan from Dreverhaven's bank to purchase a failed cigar store, Dreverhaven sues him to win the money back. Still, Katadreuffe manages to pay back the debt, finding a clerical position in a law firm. He does this even though most of his education is derived from reading an incomplete set of encyclopedias that he happens to find as a boy in his mother's apartment.

After paying back the debt, Katadreuffe implores Draverhaven to give him a second loan so that he can pass the bar examination. Dreverhaven agrees, on the condition that he can call back the loan at any time. Despite his efforts to hinder his son, Katadreuffe manages to pass the examination. On the afternoon of the murder he storms into Dreverhaven's office to pay the final installment on the loan. A fight ensues, and Katadreuffe attacks Dreverhaven before leaving. All around people see him as he marches out of the office.

At the end of the film, however, the police discover that Katadreuffe left Dreverhaven at 5:00 p.m., while Dreverhaven died at 11:00 p.m. It transpires that Draverhaven actually committed suicide. At the end of the film, his will is produced, leaving all of his considerable wealth to his son. The will is signed "Vader", Father.


The complicated relationship between Katadreuffe and Dreverhaven lies at the center of this film. Viewers are left wondering whether Dreverhaven was really acting in his son's best interest, by being harsh with him, or taking revenge, either on an unwanted child or the boy's mother, who refused to marry him.

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