Visually striking but intellectually pretentious and a bit vague, “The Ditvoorst Domains” presents a gloomy portrait of Adriaan Ditvoorst, the gifted Dutch filmmaker who committed suicide in 1987. Docu offers valuable insights about Ditvoorst and the Dutch cinema, but lack of familiarity outside Holland with his work will restrict its appeal to the fest circuit.
Born in 1940, Ditvoorst graduated from Amsterdam’s Film Academy, where he was influenced by the French New Wave; Jean-Luc Godard reportedly thought of him as a kindred soul. Ditvoorst’s dream was to build a local industry modeled on the French. Indeed, in the late 1960s and 1970s, the New Dutch Cinema was lively and original, brimming with talent.
Producers, colleagues and friends who went to school with Ditvoorst talk about him as a director and a man. Representative clips from his films are interspersed, illustrating his surrealistic style and expressionistic lighting.
A complex, problematic personality, Ditvoorst dealt in motifs of despair and death. According to friends, “imagination, poetic melancholy and gloomy interior” characterized his vision. He was instinctively drawn to Kafka and the absurd; self-destruction was a leitmotif — every pic was a cri de coeur.
In the 1970s, Ditvoorst made “The Blind Photographer,””The Idiot” and “Flanagan,” the latter a gangster flick with the structure of a Greek tragedy. These films showed innovation, but they all failed commercially. When his wife left him, he sank into severe depression.
Financing was always a nightmare for Ditvoorst. His peers concur that he was out of place in Holland, that had he lived in France, his talent would have blossomed. Ditvoorst had “aesthetic purity” but lacked the pragmatic skills to fulfill it. Docu takes a romantic view of the director as a solitary artist who refused to compromise his vision for the sake of mass appeal. “The Ditvoorst Domains” is the tragedy of a man who never fully exploited his talent, an artist who never found his audience.
Though docu puts the blame on the lack of “cultural climate,” what’s missing is a consideration of the broader context of Dutch cinema, beyond such generalities as declining financial resources. Thus, no mention is made of Ditvoorst’s contemporary, Paul Verhoeven, who made great films at the same time and later became Holland’s best-known export to the U.S. It’s also unclear why Ditvoorst never moved to Paris or another film center.
First-time director Thom Hoffman played the lead — a mother-adoring drug addict — in “White Madness,” a 1983 film that turned out to be Ditvoorst’s last.
Ultimately, docu is more forceful as a personal tribute to an interesting director than as a manifesto of the declining cinema d’auteur in Holland.