Directed by: Nanouk Leopold | 95 minutes | drama | Actors: Catherine ten Bruggencate, Piet Kamerman, Jan Decleir, Fedja van Huêt, Tamar van den Dop, Karina Smulders, Merel van Houts, Carmen Lith and Oscar van Woensel.
“Wolfsbergen” is a portrait of people who seem to have lost the ability to love each other, a portrait of four generations of a family. The atmosphere and tone of this somewhat grim film made in a sober style can already be felt in the first scenes. A long shot of a forest, birds can be heard in the background, images of an empty apartment, a somewhat deserted standing apartment building. Konraad (played by Piet Kamerman) sends a letter to his daughter Maria (Catherine ten Bruggencate) and granddaughters Sabine (Tamar van den Dop) and Eva (Karina Smulders) that he no longer wants to live. Maria reacts angrily. “I’m not going to let that crazy letter provoke me, it goes against nature.” Sabine, her daughter, doesn’t want to talk about it either.
“Wolfsbergen” is a slowly unfolding film about relationships, family ties, modern life and the lack of communication. More than you would expect given the content of the letter sent by Konraad, we actually follow the life of the daughter and granddaughters. The letter from Konraad hits like a bomb, but at the same time is almost pushed aside by everyone in various terms. The letter is ignored in order to continue with their own life and their own problems.
Then in the first half we see a story unfold that has less to do with the subject of the letter. Here the development of the story does not seem quite in line with what might be expected, given the contents of that letter. We then follow the relationship problems that daughter Maria (Catherine ten Bruggencate) has with her husband Ernst (Jan Decleir). Maria has a thigh liposuction done and tries to hide it from her husband. She does not allow him in the bathroom (and in her bed). The situation between granddaughter Sabine (Tamar van den Dop) and her husband Onno (Fedja van Huêt) is also problematic. Sabine is in a relationship with her ex-husband who has a drinking problem. Onno later starts an affair with Eva, Sabine’s sister. Eva is, in contrast to the other characters, a person who shows a lot of emotions (and also has difficulty with that herself).
The communication of the people in this family is minimal, but over time this can become somewhat alienating. Since the film does not contain much speed anyway, and letters are explicitly read for a long time at various times and people look at each other in silence at a question for a long time before answering, there is little possibility to build up an arc of tension and to empathize with these characters. Problems are avoided at several times with the answer: “I am tired, I am going to bed.” The scenario does not make it completely clear what is actually intended with this film. Is it actually about Konraad and his death wish or is it about the children and their relationship and emotional problems? The storyline falters a bit here and is more like individual scenes and isolated stories that come to us. The sum of the parts is to a lesser extent a harmoniously balanced whole. The director apparently deliberately makes us guess about the motives of the various characters behind their actions. Why does Maria take such a distant position from her husband Ernst? We see that distance increase and her eventually leave the house. Why is Eve so emotional, what is the basis for that? It is certainly not presented to the viewer on a presentation tray by the director, as displacement in the various characters and their motives remains difficult.
“Wolfsbergen” has a strong cast with many well-known names. A good piece of drama would therefore be in line with expectations. It didn’t really turn out. The camera work is meticulous, the colors are beautifully subdued and match the image that this film evokes. The locations have been chosen with care. It is more the spark that does not occur and that the film has to ignite for you. A previous film by director Nanouk Leopold, “Guernsey” received (very rightly) many rave reviews and a Golden Calf. With this line-up, “Wolfsbergen” should have gotten more content, story and emotion out of the story. The final scenes are of a sober beauty in which the rituals that come after the end of life are delicately performed and portrayed.