Review: The Assault (1986)


The Assault (1986)

Directed by: Fons Rademakers | 144 minutes | drama, history, war, romance | Actors: Derek de Lint, Marc van Uchelen, Monique van de Ven, John Kraaykamp, ​​Huub van der Lubbe, Elly Weller, Edda Barends, Ina van der Molen, Frans Vorstman, Casper de Boer, Wim de Haas, Hiske van der Linden, Piet de Wijn, Akkemay, Cees Coolen

Filming a novel with big thoughts is not easy, especially because film is above all a visual language. As soon as the spoken word predominates through explanatory dialogues, a film quickly loses its power. Film students learn at the beginning of their screenplay course that using a voice-over is a mortal sin. It is therefore this point that stands out in Fons Rademaker’s adaptation of Harry Mulisch’s book. Mulisch’s film is about searching for the truth in a past and Rademakers was forced to explain the many jumps in time with an old-fashioned voice-over. Apparently Rademakers and his screenwriter Gerard Soeteman had little faith in the historical consciousness of the Dutch film audience, and perhaps with good reason. It is therefore the transitions to the different phases of Anton Steenwijk’s life that seem wooden. Within each episode, Rademakers shows his great craftsmanship and pushes the actors (particularly Van Uchelen as the young Anton, De Lint as the older Anton and John Kraaykamp as the resistance fighter Takes) to great heights. The only dissonant in the cast is De Dijk singer Huub van der Lubbe, who tries his best, but gets lost in it.

Camera work and art direction are of exceptionally high quality, making the film a joy to behold. Unfortunately, the ear has to make do with somewhat pompous music. Soeteman copied Mulisch’s literary discoveries with sufficient subtlety, so that the heavy symbolism of, for example, a dice (coincidence!) is not too imposed. The story is told in powerful lines and skilfully works towards some gripping climaxes as parts of the mystery of the past are revealed to Anton. As his father teaches his sons at the beginning of the film: Only those who know their past can understand their present.

The attack won numerous awards, most notably the Oscar for Best Non-English Language Film. It’s just a shame that Rademakers couldn’t concoct more from the award ceremony at the time than a somewhat embarrassing puppet show with the Oscar statuette as his hand puppet. Ah, those weird Europeans, the members of Academy must have thought.

Despite the minor flaws, ‘De Aanslag’ is one of the best films in our Dutch film history and perhaps the most important in the maturing of our film culture and film industry. It is therefore a pity that Rademaker’s role was almost over after the film and that ‘De Aanslag’, despite the films that followed it, can be seen as a magnificent final chord of a great career.