Review: ‘Supertex’

"SuperTex" is a Euro-made, English lingo pic that doesn't get lost in translation. Working from Leon de Winter's novel about a Jewish businessman and his two sons in present-day Amsterdam, helmer Jan Schuette revisits his career-long interests in cultural dislocation. Fest dates will lead to brisk sales, with tube and vid deals to follow.

A richly layered and precisely crafted generational drama imbued with whimsical grace, “SuperTex” is a Euro-made, English lingo pic that doesn’t get lost in translation. Working from Dutch writer Leon de Winter’s popular novel about a Jewish businessman and his two sons in present-day Amsterdam, vet German helmer Jan Schuette revisits his career-long interests in cultural dislocation (“Dragon Chow,” “The Farewell”), as well as the challenging intersection of business and family (his exquisite yet little-seen “Winckelmann’s Journey”). Fest dates — both general and Jewish-themed — will lead to brisk sales, with tube and vid deals to follow.

A Holocaust survivor with no formal schooling who built a successful textile business, strong-willed Simon Breslauer (Jan Decleir) constantly denigrates the education and managerial approaches of his two sons, proud 33-year-old Max (Stephen Mangan) and the younger, more pliant Boy (Elliot Levey), who is about to marry Esther (Meital Berdah).

Tired of having his suggestions to modernize rudely dismissed and shocked that Simon is cheating on his serene mother Dora (Maureen Lipman) with Polish beauty Maria (Ana Geislerova), Max quits the business to strike out on his own, to the consternation of his g.f. Lea (Tracy-Ann Oberman). But when Simon takes ill, Maria begins to exert a strange attraction on Max. Then, Boy literally loses himself during a comically disastrous business trip to Casablanca, and Max finds himself facing hard choices about his heritage, family and future.

That plot synopsis only hints at the delicate balance of power among the Breslauers and those whose lives they impact. Schuette’s always been as much a visual novelist as filmmaker, creating distinctive, complex characters and orchestrating them through multi-layered storylines at a deliberate pace (“like a long family dinner,” he says of this, his seventh dramatic feature). “SuperTex” buffs that approach to a fine gloss, with co-scripters Richard Reitinger and Andrew Kazamia excising the novel’s family backstory and shrewdly altering the denouement for maximum impact. Economic decision to shoot in English hasn’t dulled the witty wordplay, which gives no hint of being translated from the original Dutch (and is at its best zinging faith-based barbs).

Pic also abounds with eccentric detailing that balances the drama: Boy’s future father-in-law raises chickens just off the living room of his expensively-appointed home, and a restaurant scene between Max and a hooker he mistakes for Maria is a comic highlight that has little to do with the rest of the film.

It’s difficult to imagine “SuperTex” quite so beguiling with even a single star in the cast, so even is the ensemble work on display. A dead ringer for Jerry Seinfeld, Mangan brings an element of the comedian’s deadpan wonder at a world gone crazy to the role of Max. With echoes of the stern patriarch essayed in the Oscar-winning “Character,” Dutch stalwart Decleir once again garners sympathy for a selfish, hidebound father. Czech actress Geislerova and Brit Oberman make the most of their limited screen time, while Lipman anchors the film as the unflappable Dora and Levey deftly balances comedy and drama in the Casablanca-shot sequences.

Tech work is pro all the way, led by warm, widescreen lensing of returning d.p. Edward Klosinski (who shot “The Farewell” between work on the last two Krzysztof Zanussi films, “Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease” and “Supplement”) and measured editing of long-time Schuette cutter Renate Merck. Benedict Schillemans’ production design is sumptuous, and Zbigniew Preisner delivers another rich score.




A Tobis Film release (in Germany)/A-Film release (in the Netherlands) of a Haig Balian production of a HaleBob Film (Germany)/Minerva Film (The Netherlands)/Novoskop Film (Germany) production. (International sales: Telepool, Munich.) Produced by Balian, Wiebke Toppel. Directed by Jan Schuette. Screenplay, Richard Reitinger, Andrew Kazamia, Schuette, based on the novel by Leon de Winter.


Camera (color, widescreen), Edward Klosinski; editor, Renate Merck; music, Zbigniew Preisner; production designer, Benedict Schillemans; costume designer, Mariella Kallenberg; sound (Dolby SRD), Eckhard Kuchenbecker. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 7, 2003. (Also in San Sebastian Film Festival.) Running time: 96 MIN.


Stephen Mangan, Jan Decleir, Maureen Lipman, Elliot Levey, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Ana Geislerova, Meital Berdah. (English, German, French, Yiddish dialogue)
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