A very interesting feature by director Erik van Zuylen, his first in
some fifteen years, based on the novel "The Mystery of the Sardine"
(1985) by the Polish-English writer Stefan Themerson. Apparently, the
director adapted the novel into a screenplay right after it was
published, some twenty years ago, but due to the usual difficulties in
raising sufficient funds we had to wait until 2005 for this movie to be
Tim Boerhave (probably an allusion to the famous eighteenth-century
Dutch scholar Herman Boerhaave) is a professor in philosophy. One day
he watches a dog coming out of the water with a can of sardines tied to
his neck. The can of sardines explodes. Tim survives but loses both his
legs. After the initial shock he retreats to a secluded place on a
small island in the northern part of the country, trying to figure out
who could have done this.
Contrary to what the title might suggest this film doesn't work that
well as a mystery. The focus is mainly on the subsequent difficulties
he has to cope with in his marriage after the attack and the acceptance
of his handicap and being an invalid for the rest of his life. Risky
material for a feature film but fine performances throughout by a solid
cast of veteran actors make it work. The film has plenty of
thought-provoking observations and nice intellectual bon-mots, but the
overall outcome is a little uneven, especially with the two children in
the film. Their twelve year old daughter (Elske Rotteveel) develops a
relationship with a boy of the same age she has met on the island.
Their conversations are mostly about highbrow topics in philosophy,
which is simply annoying. It is not very credible for children this age
having conversations like this. As a result the acting in these scenes
is quite static. They don't seem to understand the far too adult lines
they're saying. It's not their fault. Their material should have been
written better. By any means the movie is beautifully shot on some
stunning locations (on the "Waddeneilanden") with first class
One final note on the sorry state of film distribution in the
Netherlands and this film in particular. To my knowledge it was only
shown at a few small art house theaters, after it was shown at the
Rotterdam International Film Festival and the Dutch Film Festival in
Utrecht . This is clearly not a film for all audiences but despite its
flaws it clearly deserves wider exposure. Perhaps it will get another
chance at some festivals or theaters in other countries. A challenging
film but well worth the effort.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?