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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

DUTCH DRAMA/THRILLER SCREENS AT PALM SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

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By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

The Dutch film industry has a solid reputation of producing bold and audacious movies.  They’re not intimidated by nor feel the heat generated by risky subject matter or filmic conventions.  Dutch films have also won Best Foreign Language Hollywood film Oscars.  Dutch filmmaker Mike van Diem nabbed the 1987 Oscar for his powerful gritty drama “Character”.

I had the opportunity, in 1987, to interview him here in Palm Springs, at the now Regal 9 theatres, then known as the Courtyard Theatre, during the screening of his Oscar submitted 1987 drama.  I told him he was going to win the Oscar for “Character”.  He thanked me, but demurred on my prediction, however,  it did win.  It just had Oscar winner look written all over it.

This year another Dutch film is in the Oscar hunt again.  This time it is a powerful, psychological, provocative thriller called “Instinct”.  It’s set in a prison where a newly arrived, experienced psychologist Nicoline, (rivetingly played by Carice van Houten) is assigned to the case file of serial sex offender Idris (a clever psychopath scarily portrayed by Marwan Kenzari).

After five years of treatment, Idris is about to be granted his first unaccompanied probation. While his team of therapists are enthusiastic about his progress, Nicoline’s instincts tell her not to trust him.  When she attempts to block his probation, he begins a campaign to convince her of his good intentions, but slowly and surely he demonstrates the frightening manipulative behavior she saw in him from the beginning.

A power play now emerges between these two “adversaries” and, in spite of her knowledge and experience, Nicoline finds herself in a trap of her own making.  As an audience member one will find themselves thinking why doesn’t she just ask to be reassigned or transfer all together to a new facility if she feels threatened or in danger?  Well, if all screenwriters and directors thought this way, we wouldn’t have many thrillers to scare the be-jeepers out of us, now would we?  ‘Don’t go down that dark alley it’s 3 AM’.  But of course they always do.

The old adage, ‘the proof of the pudding is the eating of it’; applies here. The screenplay directed by well- known Dutch actress Halina Reijn, is a highly erotic and steamy story to pull off for a first time maiden voyage filmmaker.  However, Ms. Reijn delivers the goods and so do her fabulous two leading actors. 

“Instinct” contains some highly emotional sex scenes that could be labeled, by some, as “soft porn” due to the way the film is photographed.  But the scenes are the fuel that drives the story’s suggested ambivalence as to Nicoline’s character and her emotional state.  Carise van Houten as Nicoline might be remembered from “Game of Thrones”, but as Caroline, she delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance that runs the emotional gamut from A to Z.  It’s a star turn.

Marwan Kenzari as Idris, is chillingly accurate in his portrayal as a serial sex predator whose soft- speaking, low key performance belies the rage seething inside him.  Psychopaths must always get their own way or they rebel in punishing ways.  The deliberate slow measured pacing by director Heijn heightens the tensions of all – both actors and the audience – in this impressive thriller from the Netherlands.  Check the 92nd Oscar Nominations List announcement when it come out on February.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find “Instinct” on the Oscar short list for foreign films come February 9th. 

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