Character (film)

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German film poster of Character
Directed by Mike van Diem
Produced by Laurens Geels
Written by Ferdinand Bordewijk (novel)
Mike van Diem
Starring Jan Decleir
Fedja van Huêt
Victor Löw
Music by Paleis van Boem
Cinematography Rogier Stoffers
Edited by Jessica de Koning
Release date(s) 17 April 1997 (Netherlands)
27 March 1998 (U.S.)
10 April 1998 (Canada)
18 October 1998 (UK)
Running time 122 minutes
Country Netherlands, Belgium
Language Dutch
Budget $4,500,000
Box office $713,413

Character (Dutch: Karakter) is a 1997 Dutch/Belgian film, based on the best-selling novel by Ferdinand Bordewijk and directed by Mike van Diem. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 70th Academy Awards. The film stars Fedja van Huêt, Jan Decleir, and Betty Schuurman.


In the Netherlands of the 1920s, Dreverhaven (Decleir), a dreaded bailiff, is found dead, with a knife sticking out of his stomach. The obvious suspect is Jacob Willem Katadreuffe (van Huêt), 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 Dreverhaven'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 Katadreuffe's father.

The story begins when Katadreuffe's taciturn mother, Joba (played by Schuurman), worked as a housekeeper for Dreverhaven. During that time, they had sex only once (it is alluded that the encounter was forced upon Joba). She becomes pregnant and leaves her employer to make a living for herself and her son. Time and again she rejects Dreverhaven's offers by mail to marry.

Even as a child, Katadreuffe's path crosses with Dreverhaven, 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 Dreverhaven 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.

However, the police discover that Katadreuffe left Dreverhaven at 5:00 p.m., while Dreverhaven died at 11:00 p.m. It transpires that Dreverhaven actually committed suicide. 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. Unrequited love and blind ambition are among the other themes in this film, as is the difficulty some of the characters have in expressing emotions fully and the repercussions that ensue.


Most scenes of the movie were shot in Wrocław, Poland.


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