Shiny Shelf


By Jim Smith on 25 October 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘In Oranje’ is a Dutch-language, magic realist film for children and families, and it’s absolutely marvellous. Its plot concerns a little boy who dreams of playing for the Dutch National team.

While its single screening at the London Film Festival has now been and gone, it is one of the films selected by the festival’s organisers to go on tour throughout the UK so you all should have some chances to catch it over the next few months.

Remco, aged 12, is an extremely talented football player and his father, Erik, knows it. Football is Father and son’s shared world, a world of worshipping Garrincha (the brilliant Brazilian attacking midfielder who died tragically young with his potential unfulfilled – think of him as Marlowe to Pele’s Shakespeare if it helps) arguing over whether a single-side player can ever be *truly* great and endless training, hoping, dreaming and playing for the school.

Erik is not the competitive Dad of cliché, while he is flawed and at times arrogant, his ambitions for his son dovetail neatly, if not perfectly, with his son’s own ambitions, and they are an ideal partnership. The shared world and ideal partnership are both taken from Remco when his Father dies of an undiagnosed heart condition.

Remco’s Mother, played with warmth and vivacity by Dutch TV presenter Wendy Van Dijk, tries to make her children’s lives as happy as possible in the absence of their beloved Father, but still young and attractive (yes, I have reached a point in my life where I regularly find the mothers of fictional teenage children appealing) she eventually finds love again with the family’s accountant, a warm, compassionate man with whom she has more in common than she ever did with Erik, although his presence inevitably causes friction within the home.

For a while Remco’s ambition seems to have died with the Father who did so much to nurture them, but a series of conversations, and later meetings, with a figure who appears to be Erik’s ghost, but who is more properly thought of as a figment of Remco’s grief-stricken imagination reignites Remco’s passion for the game he loves and helps him to rediscover the parts of himself that are most like his Father. Remco’s subsequent recovery of his emotional equilibrium, which comes in parallel with his increasing determination to realise his dreams, is as entirely satisfying as it could be.

One could not really describe the film as small-scale. There are more than a few effects, including a CGI recreation of the Brazilia stadium in a Dutch wood (where Remco dreams himself playing alongside Garrincha and Bobby Moore) and some fairly obvious product placement from McDonald’s (although this is undercut by the dialogue spoken there) and the general production standards are very high, its director Joram Lursem has worked extensively in Dutch TV but this is his first feature film.

His methods here, in this imaginatively shot and beautifully acted film, indicate a combination of experience and enthusiasm that makes the film simultaneously considered and exhilarating.

‘In Oranje’, ultimately, sings of a great understanding of all of its subject matters, whether it be the appeal of football, the nature of hero worship, the difficulties of dealing with grief and the complexities of relationships between parents and children.

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