Winner of last year’s top film prize in Holland, and the country’s Oscar submission, “Little Blond Death” is an extraordinary debut film packed with emotion and stylistic panache. Director and co-writer Jean van de Velde navigates seemingly familiar territory and pushes it in novel directions. The result is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride filled with insightful, unexpected turns. Its universally accessible story combined with energy and craft make it a natural for international arthouse exploitation and a critical success that could spell commercial prospects.
Valentine Boecke (Antonie Kamerling) is a twentysomething poet with an established cult reputation in Dutch coffeehouses. He’s equally well-known for living high — a wastrel and druggie who spouts angry rhetoric against anything vaguely conformist.
A product of a stifling home ruled by a martinet war vet father, his rebellion follows a classic curve. He’s lucky because his poetry offers hima venue to vent and a means of earning a living. However, he’s totally at sea emotionally and sexually.
Adapted from an autobiographical novel, the narrative evolves awkwardly but with a sense of blinding truth that smoothes out all unsightly wrinkles. It’s a story propelled by circumstance rather than cliche. The logic is simple and effective — every action will necessitate a reaction. Boecke’s life and the manner in which he responds to both the mundane and vital is honest if unconventional.
The incident that will forever change his life is a chance encounter with Mieke (Loes Wouterson), a teacher who encouraged his artistic bent as a young teen. She’s obviously fallen on hard times, and a whirlwind of alcohol, pent up emotion and repressed anger lead them to an incendiary moment of passion.
When Mieke pops up several months later, Valentine is horrified to see that she is pregnant. He is livid and confused, unable to come to terms with a paternal instinct at odds with the sense of entrapment he fears most. For him, there is no balance, and his attitude and actions initially are all extremes prompted by either a troubled past or pure emotional reflex.
The director revels in his bitterly conflicted character. It allows for a rather unconventional narrative, pacing and visual style that is synchronous with Valentine’s mood swings. The camerawork by Jules van den Steenhoven is truly dazzling, and the music by Jurre Haanstra and harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans provides an inspired additional layer for the story.
Kamerling’s central performance is remarkable in deftly twining the raveled threads of the film into a continuous string. In a physically demanding role, he makes the challenge appear organic. Wouterson and youngster Olivier Tuinier as the product of the lovers’ union are also outstanding.
The conclusion is no less complex than all that precedes it. There’s tremendous veracity in its mix of confrontation, recognition and sorrow that is somehow emotionally appropriate and satisfying, yet wholly unmanipulative.