Review: ‘The Nobel Prize Winner’

Dutch black comedy is not quite a slam dunk due to a lack of modulation of escalating events but is nonetheless cleverly engaging throughout.

Dutch black comedy “The Nobel Prize Winner” is an ensemble piece about the complicated intrigue that ensues when a famous writer publishes the work of a presumed-dead unknown under his own name. Not quite a slam dunk due to a lack of modulation of escalating events, this black-and-white directorial debut for Timo Veltkamp (scenarist of 1999’s well-received “Missing Link”) is nonetheless cleverly engaging throughout. Offshore sales are likely to lean toward home formats.

An impoverished loner who’s slaved away at his epic first novel for a decade, Joaquim West (Marc van Uchelen) throws the typewritten text in the trash in a fit of self-doubt rather than submit it to his belittling publishing-house editor Lea (Carly Wijs). A day or two later, he’s evicted from his squalid apartment. Unbeknownst to him, his landlord throws the already stamped-and-enveloped manuscript into the mail rather than the garbage — and Lea recognizes a work of genius.

But Joaquim has vanished, and various circumstances lead Lea to think he’s committed suicide. This provides a golden opportunity for Lea’s bestselling author Fabian Remarque (Harry van Rijthoven), who’s suffering from writer’s block and believes his inkwell has permanently run dry. She convinces him to let her company publish the book under his name; it’s an immediate sensation, shoring up Fabian’s sagging reputation.

But several factors are working toward uncovering this literary scandal, including a pregnant 15-year-old (Chloe Leenheer) and her mother (Sabrina van Halderen), a kind-hearted stripper/prostitute(Rifka Lodeizen) and a sleazy private investigator (Ruben Brinkman) who is first to glimpse the blackmail-tempting holes in this literary triumph.

A late revelation of accidental incest stretches the plot mechanics a bit farther than can be swallowed. But “The Nobel Prize Winner” is certainly ingeniously worked out, as well as expertly acted and mounted. It could have used a tad more directorial oomph, however, as progress, while never less than engrossing, scarcely varies approach from one scene to the next, even as the narrative grows to encompass murder and some far-reaching ironies.

The Nobel Prize Winner

Netherlands

Production

A Viaggio Film production. (International sales: Viaggio Film, Amsterdam.) Produced by Timo Veltkamp. Executive producer, Maars van Haaften. Directed, written by Timo Veltkamp.

Crew

Camera (B&W, HD), Lonneke Worm; editor, Michal Chmarzynski; music, John Zorn; art director, Vera van de Sandt, set decorator, Susanna de Groot; costume designer, Margriet Procee; sound, Johan Rompelberg; sound designer, Lukas Morawski; re-recording mixer, Arnoud Traa; assistant director, Michael Kunzler; casting, Saida van der Reijd. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, March 27, 2011. (In Cinequest Film Festival.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Marc van Uchelen, Harry van Rijthoven, Carly Wijs, Chloe Leenheer, Rifka Lodeizen, Femke Lakerveld, Justus van Oel, Martijn Fischer, Ruben Brinkman, Rein Edzard de Vries, Sabrina van Halderen.

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