Toronto: 'Instinct' Director, Star Option 'The High Nest' Novel for Screen Adaptation

'Instinct' Film Still — Publicity — H 2019
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

Dutch actor-director Halina Reijn discusses adapting the World War II bestseller while her directorial debut shows at the Canadian fest.

Dutch actor-turned-director Halina Reijn and fellow actor and production partner Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones) have optioned World War II novel The High Nest with an eye to producing a movie or limited TV series.

Reijn and van Houten, partners in Amsterdam-based indie producer Man Up Film, are in Toronto for the North American premiere of Instinct, which marks Reijn's directorial debut.

Reijn told The Hollywood Reporter that the adaptation of Roxane van Iperen’s The High Nest — about two Jewish sisters who operated a hideaway in central Holland, then under Nazi occupation, and survived to 1945 — will speak to today's audiences.

"It's a period piece, but I see it as a contemporary story. There's two Jewish sisters in the prime of their lives, both mothers and modern women, and then the Second World War starts and Amsterdam, a symbol of tolerance, becomes a nightmare for them," she explained.

Reijn added there are contemporary overtones for the wartime novel, given current debates over immigration and political tribalism in Europe and the U.S. "Segregating people, discriminating against people that are different, it's happening right now in a huge way with refugees and calls to build walls, in Europe and in America — this is such an important time where we all need to look at ourselves," she said.

The High Nest was written by van Iperen after she moved into a Dutch villa, began a renovation and found papers and other materials from the former hideaway residents. "That's when she started to discover the story and research about the Jewish sisters. No one wanted to talk to her about it, as she asked about what happened in that house," Reijn recounted.

There's no word on who might pen the movie adaptation, but Reijn anticipates a female-driven production.

Instinct, which debuted at Locarno, portrays a veteran female psychologist (van Houten) who begins a job at a secure men's rehab facility and meets a charismatic, manipulative patient (Marwan Kenzari, who played Jafar in the live-action Aladdin remake).