Review: ‘The Mystery of the Sardine’

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.

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.

The Mystery of the Sardine

Netherlands

Production

A Cinemien release (in the Netherlands) of a De Productie, VPRO co-production. (International sales: De Productie, Rotterdam.) Produced by Annemiek van Gorp, Rene Goossens. Directed, written by Erik van Zuylen, based on the novel by Stefan Themerson.

Crew

Camera (color), Maarten Kramer; editor, Lin Friedman; music, Henk Hofstede; production designer, Ben Zuydwijk; costume designer, Elianne van Dorp. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Time & Tide), Jan. 27, 2005. Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Victor Low, Renee Fokker, Elske Rotteveel, Casper Smeets, Angelique de Bruijne.
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