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In a field dominated by many ambitious and weighty films, the Dutch submission for this year’s foreign language Oscar has an appealing modesty. Kauwboy, which has won several awards at European festivals, has only three significant characters and might be considered a cinematic equivalent of a young-adult novel. Its protagonist is a 10-year-old boy who adopts a crow in an effort to escape a troubled home life. The boy-and-his-pet logline follows in the tradition of favorites like Lassie and The Yearling, and while it doesn’t quite reach classic stature, it is exceptionally well acted and touching. It’s a tiny but likable film that could penetrate the specialized market with careful handling.
The film is told from the point of view of Jojo (Rick Lens), who has a wary relationship with his sullen father. When he rescues a baby crow that has fallen from its nest, the boy discovers a sense of purpose. It takes a while to discover why the father is so withdrawn, but we can sense it has something to do with the absence of the boy’s mother, a singer whose recordings continue to haunt Jojo. His father does not want a bird in the house, so much of the film consists of nothing more elaborate than Jojo’s efforts to conceal the pet from his father. His life broadens when he strikes up a friendship with an older girl (Susan Radder) who plays on his water polo team at school. The final revelation about Jojo’s mother is not exactly a shock, but it still plays out effectively.
The film rests on the two splendid performances at the center. Lens has to hold our attention for every minute of the film, a feat that he accomplishes effortlessly. The actor is completely convincing in his moments of joyous abandon as well as others of frustration and rage. He’s endearing without ever turning cloying, and this is surely a tribute to the skill of director Boudewijn Koole. Loek Peters is equally compelling as Jojo’s rather helpless father. The moments when Peters’ character responds to Jojo with brutality are disturbing, but we always understand the anguish that underlies the character’s anger. Radder is engaging as the puppy-love interest for Jojo.
Koole’s direction relies on too many closeups; one longs for a richer sense of the locale where this story takes place. A rare exterior scene like a race through a field of tall grass is a welcome relief from the claustrophobic interiors. Nevertheless, Koole’s strategy pays off in the rich performances he draws from the actors. The musical score, which includes several songs, adds to the film’s impact. This small but compact drama of childhood pains builds to a potent, memorable conclusion.
Production: Waterland Film.
Cast: Rick Lens, Loek Peters, Susan Radder, Ricky Koole, Huseyin Cahit Olmez.
Director: Boudewijn Koole.
Screenwriters: Boudewijn Koole, Jolein Laarman.
Producers: Wilant Boekelman, Jan van der Zanden.
Executive producer: Floor Onrust.
Director of photography: Daniel Bouquet.
Production designer: Jorien Sont.
Music: Helge Slikker.
Costume designer: Heleen Heintjes.
Editor: Gys Zevenbergen.
No rating, 77 minutes.
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