Review: Ivory Guards (1998)

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Ivory Guardians (1998)

Directed by: Dana Nechustan | 75 minutes | drama | Actors: Stijn Westenend, Roef Ragas, Gwen Eckhaus, Cees Geel, Elvira Out, Carice van Houten, Rop Verheijen

On the occasion of the centenary of the birth of the Dutch writer Simon Vestdijk (1888-1971), three films were released in 1998, based on some of his best-known novels. The titles: ‘The seer’ (Gerrit van Elst), ‘The glittering armour’ (Maarten Treurniet) and ‘Ivory watchmen’ (Dana Nechushtan). Although all three premiered at the Netherlands Film Festival, they have only been screened on TV since then. After fourteen years, they are now finally available on DVD.

‘Ivory watchmen’ tells the story of the very gifted gymnast Philip Corvage (Stijn Westenend), who, in addition to having a great intellect, is also afflicted with abominably bad teeth. His new Dutch teacher, the socially handicapped but very driven Frits Schotel de Bie (Roef Ragas), loses his composure in class when Philip constantly interrupts him knowingly and bites him that he should keep his “burnt-down graveyard” to himself. Philip then seeks revenge and wants to force an apology. By chance he comes into contact with Frits’s fiancée (Elvira Out), who takes pity on him and decides to help him.

In addition to this central plot, Philips’ difficult relationship with his uncle with whom he lives (a wonderfully grimy Joop Doderer) and his courtship towards his cleaning lady Nel (Gwen Eckhaus) play a major role. The latter in particular gets him into trouble because of her very jealous boyfriend (Cees Geel with a somewhat showy wig). The film focuses mainly on Philip’s longing for love (or affection), which weakens his clash with Schotel de Bie. Probably the film, which is only 75 minutes long, would have benefited from some extra scenes to get the balance better.

Where the book ‘Ivory watchmen’ (1951) is probably set in the 1930s, director Dana Nechushtan has moved the action to the 1970s. She underlines this choice with a great deal of attention for, among other things, the architecture of the time and a soundtrack that is almost entirely consists of rock classics from that time. This modern touch makes the film accessible to a somewhat younger audience, but lovers of the novel may find it objectionable because it has drastically changed the tone. As Nechushtan has allowed himself more liberties with regard to the story.

Apart from the book, however, the film holds up quite nicely. Nechushtan has visibly entertained himself with experiments in camera work and editing which, although not implemented completely consistently, give the film a clear face of its own. The screenplay could have been sharper, but Nechushtan’s talent (she had graduated from the Film Academy a few years earlier) is already showing through. A nice thing is that ‘Ivory watchmen’ is the acting debut of Carice van Houten in a full-length feature film. Her role as Philip’s school friend is marginal, but it remains a fun fact.

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