The surrealist elements in Erik van Zuylen’s “The Mystery of the Sardine” are initially so quirkily intriguing it seems churlish to question their intent. But their perplexing nature leaves a residue akin to a half-remembered dream uncomfortably analyzed. Based on a novel by Polish writer/helmer Stefan Themerson (whose avant-garde film “The Adventure of a Good Citizen” makes an early appearance), pic looks at the struggles of an average man to understand why he was the target of a bomb attack. Despite handsome lensing, this little fish story won’t do much swimming outside Dutch waters.
A large black dog with a sardine can around his neck is the unlikely suicide bomber apparently directed against philosophy lecturer Tim (Victor Low), who loses both legs in the blast. Trying to make sense of it, Tim obsessively goes over the period leading up to the attack, but nothing adds up. The mystery deepens when his wife, Vera (Renee Fokker), discovers a freshly painted representation of the attack in a local church. Embellishing the plot are absurdist side characters, notably a disheveled man often seen walking backwards. Tech credits are unassailable.