The story may not be original, but the telling is potent in the Dutch film Waldstille, featured in the New Directors section of the San Sebastian Film Festival. Writer-director Martijn Maria Smits knows how to build tension without relying on fraudulent melodrama. The result is a family drama drenched in believable anguish.
The film takes its title from an area of the Netherlands that is vividly rendered by Smits. Ben (Thomas Ryckewaert) lives with his girlfriend and young daughter Cindy, but he isn’t exactly the most responsible father. After a night of heavy partying (involving booze and drugs), Ben is involved in a traffic accident that kills his girlfriend. He serves several years in prison and returns home, determined to renew contact with his daughter. But she now lives with his girlfriend’s parents, who are still bitter about their daughter’s death and determined to keep Cindy away from Ben. He is equally determined to find a way to see her, even if that means seducing the dead woman’s sister to aid him in his quest.
Honest, poignant father-daughter drama.
Stories of estranged parents taking drastic measures to gain custody of their children are all too familiar from the news as well as from earlier domestic dramas. But this film compels our attention because of expert acting and direction. The film’s strongest asset is Ryckewaert’s performance in the central role. He is attractive enough to make a convincing magnet for the women in his life. In the first section he captures Ben’s irresponsibility without ever making him a cardboard villain. And the helplessness he feels when he returns from prison and realizes all the cards are stacked against him emerges quite movingly. But then all of the performances are finely drawn. As six-year-old Cindy, Zinsy de Boer is convincingly bewildered and touching.
In one tense, perfectly controlled scene, Ben comes to his daughter’s school, claiming that he has the authority to take her home. Cindy’s bewilderment and the resistance of the school officials foil Ben’s plans.
Eventually Ben does find a way to get Cindy away from her grandparents, and this final section of the film is extremely suspenseful, as we fear for both Ben and Cindy as he struggles with conflicting impulses that are entirely credible. There is no perfect solution to this all-too-familiar parental dilemma, but the film ends on just the right note of regret mixed with very tentative hopefulness.
Cast: Thomas Ryckewaert, Jelka van Houten, Johan Leysen, Marie Louise Stheins, Maartje van de Wetering, Zinsy de Boer
Director-screenwriter: Martijn Maria Smits
Producer: Stienette Bosklopper
Director of photography: Frank van den Eeden
Production designer: Vera van de Sandt
Costume designer: Sara Hakkenberg
Editors: Ruben van der Hammen, Martijn Maria Smits
Music: Rutger Reinders
Sales company: Media Luna New Films
No rating, 88 minutes