Review: From the Cool Lakes of Death (1982)

Directed by: Nouchka van Brakel | 119 minutes | drama | Actors: Renée Soutendijk, Erik van ‘t Wout, Adriaan Olree, Derek de Lint, Peter Faber, Claire Wauthion, Krijn ter Braak, Lettie Oosthoek, Kristine de Both, Siem Vroom, Rudolf Lucieer, Thera van Homeijer, Robert de Jonker, IJsbrandt Carmiggelt, Huub Stapel, Clara Brak, Rev. Wim Janssen, Willem van Rinsum, Wiske Sterringa, Anna van Beers, Liliane Kuyer, Vivien Heilbron, John Sandford, Dave Calderhead, Patricia Allen, Bernard Graczyk, Sandrien van Brakel, Yvette Merlin, Jacques Viala, Christiane Ramseijer, Bram Jesserun, Gérard Vivane

As a teenager, she didn’t turn her hand for a back flip or flick. The young Renée Soutendijk was not a deserving gymnast and even had the ambition to shine at the Olympic Games. On the advice of her dance teacher, she took a look at the Theater Academy, after which she knew what she really wanted to become: an actress. In 1978, the 21-year-old from The Hague made her debut in the television series “Diary of a sheepdog”, in the same year she launched herself as a movie star with her role in “Pastoral 1943”. Renée is the new face of Dutch film in one fell swoop. Roles in “Splashes” (1980) and “The Girl with the Red Hair” (1981) confirm that status. Before trying her luck abroad, Soutendijk played the leading role in 1982 in the film adaptation of Frederik van Eeden’s classic naturalistic novel, ‘Van de cool lakes of death’, from 1900. A daring, intense role that the then 25 -year-old actress earned a lot of praise.

The story takes place in the second half of the nineteenth century. Hedwig “Hetty” de Fontaine (Renée Soutendijk) comes from a well-to-do and very religious family, which keeps the growing girl short. Her mother died of typhus. When Hetty visits her grave, she bumps into Johan (Erik van ‘t Woud), whom she fantasizes about. However, erotic thoughts are out of the question and when her governess (Lettie Oosthoek) catches her, she shouts that Hetty can no longer have children. The poor girl is so accommodated that she tries to hang herself. A few years later she bumps into Johan again. He would love to marry her, but because they come from completely different backgrounds, that will never happen. Instead, she marries the aloof but well-to-do Gerard Wijbrands (Adriaan Olree). The loveless marriage does not make her happy and Hetty flees into a passionate romance with pianist Ritsaart (Derek de Lint). For the first time she can enjoy sex: she decides to leave Gerard and run off with Ritsaart. In England she gives birth to their daughter, but when the girl dies shortly after birth, Hetty goes completely out of control.

Director Nouchka van Brakel wrote the script together with Ton Vorstenbosch. Unlike Van Eeden’s book, in which Hetty’s strict religious background only plays a supporting role, religion plays a central role in the film. Her faith initially causes oppression, but ultimately also brings her salvation (in the book it is mainly psychoanalysis that brings salvation). Not entirely coincidentally, the nun Paula who guides her through the process is played by the same actress as her mother. Renée Soutendijk deserves all the credit for her great performance. She can pull out her entire arsenal of emotions. While she is modest and stiff at the beginning of the film, after the death of her daughter, she completely breaks through in one of the most impressive and terrifying scenes in Dutch film history. Hysteria in solitary confinement. Tribute to Renée Soutendijk! Her opponents play second fiddle, but all do this properly. Peter Faber’s role as a heroin addicted artist is a special one; he is about the only one who approaches Hetty – however ironically – soberly. Maybe that’s why she has such a special bond with him.

In addition to the strong acting, Theo van de Sande’s sumptuous camera work is also striking, with beautiful sets and beautiful costumes. The repressive atmosphere in which Hetty grows up is also perfectly expressed in images. Complementing the images is the strong soundtrack by Erik van der Wurff, known for his collaboration with Herman van Veen. Nouchka van Brakel had the arduous task of translating one of Dutch classic novels onto the silver screen and succeeds with flying colors. The story is compelling and poignant and, due to some subtle changes, less pessimistic than the book (although Van Eeden’s novel is a lot less fatalistic compared to other naturalistic works). But above all, “Of the cool lakes of death” is Renée Soutendijk’s film. She knows how to convey the inner struggle that Hetty is waging with a lot of nuance and feeling. It is mainly to her credit that “Of the cool lakes of death” has become a true classic.

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