This is the Dutch movie—though there is not a tulip or windmill in sight—that nabbed the Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture last month. Based on a classic Dutch novel published in 1938 by Ferdinand Bordewijk (not exactly a household name over here), Character is a dark, brooding drama that follows a young man's difficult rise from poverty to membership in a fancy law firm in 1920s Rotterdam. For most of the movie, he is also doing battle with the shadow of his tyrannical, manipulative, brooding father, a man his mother refused to marry and whom our protagonist glimpses only occasionally and always at a distance.
Character has the sweep and moral power of a Charles Dickens tale, but it lacks the colorful subsidiary characters and humor that make Dickens so memorable. What's left is lots and lots of Plot und Drang. (R)