Review: The Bastard (2018)

The Bastard (2018)

Directed by: Floris-Jan van Luyn | 84 minutes | documentary

Michiel Hoek, bicycle repair shop in Oudemirdum, Friesland, received a phone call from the Red Cross years ago. Was he aware that he had a half brother in Ethiopia? After the negative answer, an explanation followed: Daniel Hoek is the first son of Michiel’s father Joop, who indeed lived in Ethiopia for a period in the 1960s because he worked there for an agricultural company. When Michiel contacts his brothers, they are just as surprised as he is and they ask him – as the ‘eldest brother’ – to confront their father with this news. Joop Hoek first denies in all tones, but can also not help saying that “Michiel should not meddle in his business”. Because he might as well have confirmed it, Michiel leaves for Ethiopia with a friend to meet Daniel.

A family reunion follows, all’s well that ends well? Of course not, there are quite a few snags to this story, which would fit in a soap opera, were it not for the fact that the emotions and relationships are much more complex than you see in such a series. ‘The Bastard’ meticulously records the unfolding of this history. That doesn’t just happen with interviews, of course we see the usual talking heads, from Daniel, Michiel and later also Joop. But also by staged fragments with a boy like Daniel, who walks through Ethiopia, as Daniel once did, to run away from his mother, whom he hated because she too called him Bastard, to the Dutch embassy in Addis Abbeba, to ask for help there in looking for his father. In these fictitious images we see Daniel grow up, as it were, because we get a picture of the shocking story of his childhood and life as a young adult. It doesn’t matter that the images may not quite match the truth; through the flowery stories of the charismatic Daniel, aided by the truly excellent editing (get the Golden Calf ready!) and the atmospheric music, you see his life history before you, almost as if Richard Linklater followed him à la ‘Boyhood’.

Is the history of Daniel in itself already interesting, when director Floris-Jan van Luyn gets father Joop in front of the camera, ‘The Bastard’ becomes the edge of your seat. It is so special to see how, as it were, the ink of Joop’s stamp is most clear with Daniel and much less with his legally recognized children. The documentary does not shy away from the ugly truth, and it is admirable of the people involved that they expose themselves in this way. This does not only concern behavior that is unacceptable, but also opinions. That should cause emotions, and it does. Aversion, disbelief, compassion, emotion… ‘The Bastard’ arouses a whole range of feelings in the viewer.

‘The Bastard’ is about searching for your roots. That’s something you probably only recognize if you didn’t grow up with your natural parents, but the film manages to make that human desire tangible in a breathtaking way. Wonderful story, really happened, compelling until the last minute.

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