A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"Character'' oozes with feelings of spite and revenge that grow up between a father and the son he had out of wedlock. It is dark, bitter and fascinating, as all family feuds are--about hatred so deep that it can only be ended with a knife.
The Dutch winner of this year's Academy Award as best foreign film, it involves the character of Dreverhaven (Jan Decleir), a lone and stony bailiff who exacts stern measures on the poor. One day, and one day only, he enters the room of his housekeeper, Joba (Betty Shuurman). That visit leads to a pregnancy. The man doesn't send his housekeeper into disgrace and abandonment, as we might expect; she freely chooses such a state, preferring it to the prospect of becoming Dreverhaven's wife. "When is our wedding?'' the stern man demands of her, from time to time, but she does not answer.
The boy is named Katadreuffe (Fedja van Huet). In school he is taunted as a bastard, and his mother is shouted at in the streets. He grows up with a deep hatred for his father. We learn all of this in flashbacks; the film opens with a confrontation between father and son, and with reasons to suspect that the boy is guilty of his father's murder.
The film is based on a 1938 novel by Ferdinand Bordewijk. It evokes some of the darker episodes of Dickens and also, in its focus on the grind of poverty and illegitimacy, reflects the twisted stories of family secrets by that grim Victorian, George Gissing. It is essentially the story of a young man growing up and making good, by pluck and intelligence, but all of his success comes out of the desire to spite his father.