Review: The Hell of ’63 (2009)

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The Hell of ’63 (2009)

Directed by: Steven de Jong | 100 minutes | drama, family | Actors: Willeke van Ammelrooy, Chantal Janzen, Cas Jansen, Pierre Bokma, Cees Geel, Dennis Overeem, Dirk Zeelenberg, Peggy Vrijens, Chris Zegers, Lottie Hellingman, Rense Westra, Yannick Noomen, Henk Gemser, Tim Douwsma, Chiem Bokma, Robbert Blokland , Henk Angenent, Wiebe Wieling, Chava voor in ‘t Holt, Daniel Bokma, Lourens van den Akker, Dennis Faber, Reinier Paping, Jan Uitham, Jeen van den Berg

The legendary journey
In the early morning of January 18, 1963, 9,862 skaters left for a ride of almost 200 kilometers from Leeuwarden to Leeuwarden. That night all cold records were broken and in the morning it was 11 degrees below zero. During the day the wind picked up, a storm from the northeast brought snow, the temperature dropped to minus eighteen degrees. When night fell, few riders skated on the snow-covered ice. Many had fallen, many had frostbite, eyes were blinded, bones were broken. At the end of the stage, 126 participants made it to the finish. A journey through hell had come to an end.

The film

We mainly know director Steven de Jong from the film adaptation of tough boys’ books such as the Kameleon series, Snuf de Hond and De schip boys van de Bontekoe. It should come as no surprise that this Frisian screenwriter/actor/director would take care of the legendary Eleven Cities Tour of 1963. The tough men and women who braved wind and weather in 1963 must have had just as much attraction for De Jong as the heroes from the boys’ books.

Unfortunately, De Jong actually filmed the journey as if it were an adaptation of a boys’ book. Like an adventurous youth novel, the script doesn’t bother about coincidences and a lack of logic. The loneliness of the long-distance skater is invisible here, his pain and fatigue are never palpable. We do see a couple of firm lads who play tricks to reach the finish. Frozen eyes are no problem, the doctor is ready with his drops. We don’t bother about a few scratches either. And the seventeen-year-old hero of the story, a real Frisian farmer’s son, also has to resolve a family feud along the way and seduce a traumatized wench.

The boys’ book approach isn’t the film’s only problem. Apart from the beautiful photography, ‘The Hell of ’63’ lacks the necessary level. The characters vary from one-dimensional (the skaters) to caricatural (most of the rest, with an idiot dressed Telegraaf journalist as the low point). The dialogues are soapy, explaining everything you see: ‘Kees, don’t eat snow. You’ve got the HUNGER KNOCK’. The acting is not always strong, especially the clumsy way in which pain and fatigue are portrayed. The humor tends to old-fashioned, the kind where a girl goes on her bottom so that her pan is shot into the Frisian air with a snarl. A single postmodern joke – Jan Douwe Kroeske as a weather forecaster from 1963 – comes across as forced.

‘The hell of ’63’ didn’t turn out to be the movie it could have been. With this stale skating drama you will only please inveterate nostalgics. It’s a shame that the film goes down because of its own clumsiness. It’s really bad that he kills a beautiful Frisian myth.

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