The Resurrection of a Bastard (De Wederopstanding van een Klootzak): Film Review

Philosophical crime film benefits from quiet, oblique approach.

Guido van Driel adapts his own graphic novel in an accomplished feature debut.

A Dutch crime film that traffics in issues of vengeance, redemption and the psychological impact of violence without growing pretentious or preachy, Guido van Driel's The Resurrection of a Bastard studies an out-of-control man but is, itself, always in check. Reminiscent in theme of such Euro-sourced art house hits as Sexy Beast and In Bruges, this debut trades their showy virtuosity for introspection. That swap and the absence of marquee names limits U.S. commercial appeal somewhat, but a theatrical run should draw favorable attention to cast and filmmakers alike.

Yorick van Wageningen (seen in David Fincher's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) stars as Ronnie B., a gangster we meet when he's released from the hospital after an attempted assassination. Almost beatific in his contemplation of nature and a well-cooked fish, Ronnie is "completely changed" in the eyes of underling Janus (Juda Goslinga), who has driven him to an inn in a seaside town to continue his recovery. Janus is nonplussed, as are we when the film leaps back in time to observe "The Old Ronnie" -- a sadistic enforcer who, just before using a vacuum nozzle to extract a debtor's eyeball, pummels an innocent bystander to death in front of her young son.

While van Driel obliquely supplies details about the near-death experience that turned Old Ronnie into the improved model (or was he actually killed and reborn, as the title suggests?), the film takes puzzling sidetracks. In unhurried scenes where the camera sometimes seems to coast on a summer breeze, we meet Eduardo (Goua Robert Grovogui), an African immigrant trying to make something of himself while learning to deal with unspecified horrors he left in his homeland.

While we gradually work out the indirect connection between these two men, van Driel adorns the narrative with self-conscious touches that lend depth (as with the repeated image of a disembodied hand) more often than they puzzle us (Ronnie's volatile employer is named James Joyce).

Van Wageningen is captivating in both incarnations of the eponymous bastard, a character more complicated than his limited dialogue would seem to allow. Bearish and stubbly, he's an unsexy beast who provokes nervous devotion in Janus (named for the god of transitions), who talks too much in his quest for approval. Ronnie unwittingly goes to confront his fate on the long dike protecting villagers from the sea, in an eerie post-dusk sequence where Lennert Hillege's photography (striking throughout the film) mixes light and dark in the same unsettling way the story does.

Production Company: Topkapi Films

Cast: Yorick van Wageningen, Goua Robert Grovogui, Juda Goslinga, Rene Groothof, Leny Breederveld, Rian Gerritsen, Jeroen Willems

Director: Guido van Driel

Screenwriter: Guido van Driel, Bas Blokker

Producers: Arnold Heslenfeld, Laurette Schillings, Frans van Gestel

Director of photography: Lennert Hillege

Production designer: Floris Vos

Music: Peter Van Laerhoven

Costume designer: Bernadette Corstens

Editor: Alain Dessauvage

No rating, 89 minutes