Thursday 19 April 2018

Diep (Simone van Dusseldorp, 2005)

Adapted from Hendrickje Spoor's 2001 novel Het leven bestaat niet, Diep attracted much attention on its initial release as star Melody Klaver became the youngest ever nominee for the Best Actress Gouden Kalf.  Klaver may have ultimately lost out in Utrecht to Carice van Houten (who won for Zwartboek), but her performance in Diep was a real star-making one.  Truth be told, the film itself is little more than a routine coming-of-age tale which at times recalls some of Catherine Breillat's less transgressive work.  While it makes for an undemanding 80 minutes or so, it's just a bit too formulaic to make that much of an impression.

Klaver plays Heleen, a teen growing up in 1970s Holland.  Early on in the film, we witness Heleen's mother and father (Monic Hendrickx, Bart Klever) separating, and our young protagonist takes a very dim view of the new partners her parents take up with.  Heleen's interest in her parents' respective love lives chiefly springs from her being in the midst of sounding out what love and sex are all about - must they go hand in hand, or are they mutually exclusive?  It's a learning process familiar to virtually every teenager who's walked the earth.  A promising summer holiday encounter with a French boy ends in disappointment as the hapless youth clumsily and aggressively gropes Heleen (he halfheartedly tries to make amends by gifting her an engraved - but not personalised - lighter, but the flame on their incipient relationship has been well and truly snuffed out).  Back home, there's the fawning Axel (Stijn Koomen), a spotty, rather unappealing and typically sex-obsessed male teenager whose raison d'être appears to be to worm his way into the somewhat indifferent Heleen's affections - or at least her bed.

Axel's friend Steve (Damien Hope) is apparently English (although at times he sounds suspiciously like another English Steve with Dutch connections - namely McLaren, the much-ridiculed football coach who won the Eredivisie with FC Twente), and this cookie-cutter anarcho-punk holds something of an exotic allure for Heleen.  Perhaps surprisingly, and in sharp contrast to the feckless Axel, Steve extols the virtues of love and considers sex to be a mere footnote.  From Axel and Steve, Heleen gets to witness both sides of the coin, but the limited range of these two males means that neither looks like a suitable romantic interest for Heleen.  Quite what Heleen is looking for is sometimes a little unclear - although perhaps that's a point that's being made: our mid-teens can be confusing years during which we're still struggling to work out what some things are, let alone if we want them or not.  One way in which the film absolutely succeeds is in its capturing of the teenage angst typically invested in something which so often proves to mean very little.  Virtually any adult will recognise the stumbling block which stands in Heleen's way, and will be willing her on to clear it so it can firmly become a thing of the past.

While Diep is by no means a bad film, it's just a rather unmemorable one.  However, director Simone van Dusseldorp does employ a welcomely brisk pace throughout, and there's some fine camerawork on display.  While the film never really overcomes its overly familiar scenario, it does at least contain some nicely drawn characters (with the exception of awful caricature Steve) and is generally well acted.  There's also some deft work with inverted tropes: in most other films/screenplays of this ilk, smooth operator Steve would be the one with sex on his mind while gauche Axel would be the martyr to love.  Melody Klaver deservedly went on to forge a decent, steady acting career following this impressive breakthrough, with a horrible personal tragedy failing to derail her progress.  The film isn't especially easy to track down these days, but if you hunt around you should still be able to find the Dutch DVD for sale, or you can pay to watch it on VOD.

Darren Arnold

Images: IJswater Films