A headstrong 10-year-old girl and a melancholy 70-year-old spinster come to a hard-fought emotional understanding on the Scottish island of Mull in the compelling widescreen drama "Hidden Flaws." Film will be a fest mainstay, with decent arthouse, tube and homevid potential following October bow at home.

A headstrong 10-year-old girl and a melancholy 70-year-old spinster come to a hard-fought emotional understanding on the Scottish island of Mull in the compelling widescreen drama “Hidden Flaws.” As emotionally complex as director Paula van der Oest’s Oscar-nommed Dutch comedy “Zus & Zo” but pitched in a far more thoughtful key, pic joins recent Czech dramedy “The Farm Keeper” as one of those rare pics that satisfactorily reinterprets childhood struggles for an adult audience. Film will be a fest mainstay, with decent arthouse, tube and homevid potential following October bow at home.

Considered eccentric even by remote island standards, Agnes (Dutch theater star Henny Orri) has come to the seaside vacation home she shared with her late brother Robert to scatter his ashes. Her bulging glass eye accentuating an already contrary and non-conformist nature, Agnes is haunted by memories suggesting her relationship with Robert jumped sibling boundaries, and that he had something to do with the childhood accident that caused her affliction.

Meanwhile, on a holiday in the Hebrides with her family, precocious youngster Chrissy (Priscilla Knetemann) accidentally kills her bullying older brother on the ferry pier, out of sight from adult eyes but in front of her younger sibling Tommy (Bram van den Hooven). Panicked, the two hide out in Agnes’ car, and she doesn’t discover them until she’s nearly back at the cottage.

Thus begins an odd, touching relationship fueled by guilt and mutual need. Agnes quickly learns her charges are on the run, but not why. “I don’t care if I have to go to jail,” she says, “you can stay as long as you like.” The almost feral Chrissy becomes fascinated with Agnes, perhaps instinctually recognizing how the death of a brother can impact a surviving sibling. Though Gothic in nature, the payoff preserves the volatile nature of the story.

Like much of van der Oest’s work, pic is based on a novel (adapted by children’s author Tamara Bos), and helmer seems energized by the deeper literary complexities such characters offer. Thus, the relationship between Agnes and Chrissy is far more intricate than most such friendships, and the film’s leisurely, almost episodic approach to their encounter is cumulatively satisfying.

Across an age gap of roughly half a century, Orri and Knetemann connect with characters of mutual need. Distinctive among the fine supporting players, van den Hooven brings a disarming gravitas to Tommie.

Tech credits are pro, led by the gorgeous widescreen lensing of vet Bert Pot (who also shot “Zus & Zo”). Ursula Cleary’s production design presents a cottage as cluttered as the mind of its owner, while makeup artist Claudia Reymond worked with an Italian firm to create among the most believable and affecting prosthetics in recent memory.

Hidden Flaws

The Netherlands-U.K.

Production

An Independent Films (the Netherlands) release of a De Luwte (the Netherlands), SellOutPictures (U.K.) production. (International sales: De Luwte, Amsterdam.) Produced by Jacqueline de Goeij, Bob Last. Executive producer, Ruud van der Heyde. Directed by Paula van der Oest. Screenplay, Tamara Bos, based on the novel "A Crying Shame" by Renate Dorrestein.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Bert Pot; editor, Sander Vos; music, Fons Merkies; production designer, Ursula Cleary; sound (Dolby Digital SRD), Jan Willem van den Brink. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 13, 2004. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Henny Orri, Priscilla Knetemann, Bram van den Hooven. (Dutch, English dialogue)
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