Devout Calvinist widower Fred leads a respectable, utterly boring life since he evicted his only son. Suddenly arrives Theo, a mentally impaired adult, mental age about five. Fred starts enjoying ‘fathering’ again, becomes protective and even defends him against bully urchins and the pretentious bigot sexton. When Theo asks to ‘wed’ Fred, both grumpy men’s darkest secrets and regrets have to be dealt with. (Imdb)
“Matterhorn” is a Dutch drama with hints of comedy that marks the directorial debut of Diederik Ebbinge on feature film. The story centers on Fred (Ton Kas), a lonely grieving man in his 50’s who lost his wife and child, and whose life since then became tedious. Fred has the strict look of a British man, being a devout follower of his religion and showing some obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Certain day, he decides to dwell Theo (René Van’t Hof), a homeless man who became mentally handicapped after an accident, but then will have to deal with the bad-mouth parishioners, and especially with his own conscience and reality of the past. Even with a sort of stiffness in its development, this low-key comedy showed some charisma thanks to the actors’ commitment, but the humorous absurdness that came out of its plot was not always rewarding. The fact that Fred was considering Theo as a substitute of both wife and son, whom he misses so much, is perfectly acceptable, but I can’t say the same about the cheesy episode involving a jealous neighbor who has been in love with Fred’s deceased wife. With several ups and downs along the way, “Matterhorn” ended up in great style due to the unexpected revelations disclosed, and by stirring some emotion. It won the audience’s heart in Moscow and Rotterdam Film Fest. (alwayswatchgoodmovies)
Normally I tend not to bother much with Dutch films. The unrealistic way Dutch actors often speak Dutch irks me far worse than English ever does, and the over-familiarity of their faces doesn’t help. We’re a small country, so the same few people are used for commercials, television programs — talk shows, even — over and over again.
But truth be told, in recent years I’ve had to swallow this prejudice several times already, when the film happened to range from palatable to good.
Which brings us to Matterhorn, which is SO good, that language and familiarity do not matter to me at all. The acting in particular is very strong, but a special mention needs to be made of Ton Kas. He plays the lead role of Fred, a character almost deranged with unresolved grief, and within seconds he IS Fred. Director Diederik Ebbinge uses stereotypes and exaggerated surroundings to quickly pigeonhole his characters, but he does this on purpose and he does it well. When Fred stops adhering to his stereotype, you can almost feel the pressure which is starting to build. By the time a release is presented, you certainly feel the relief.
Matterhorn has been compared to the films of Alex van Warmerdam, and it’s easy to see why. There is a constant absurd dry humor at play, which isn’t exactly funny but helps alleviate the claustrophobic Dutch stuffiness. What sets this film apart, though, is its finale, which builds towards an emotional crescendo that feels wholly earned and gave me a punch in the soul. It’s seldom that a film really moves me this much, and I understand the high audience rating it received. I cannot imagine someone having to rate Matterhorn mere seconds after it ended, and NOT giving it either a four (“Good”) or a five (“Very good”).
It helps that the film looks marvelous as well. While Matterhorn apparently takes place in current times, the sets mix specific looks from the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. There are euros being used as currency, but mobile phones do not seem to exist. Many objects I remember from my early youth, now deemed obsolete, have cameos in this film. Ancient buses drive people around, and the interiors of houses either reflect dull Calvinism, bright hip colors, or yuppie nouveau-riches. It all helps making the film look finished, detailed, and polished.
And I love that look. Simple as that. So congratulations to Diederik Ebbinge, for his debut is quite outstanding, and I mean that in a good way. Ultra-conservatives may be pissed off a bit by it, but I sure was not.
A dryly absurd comedy that ends with one hell of a pay-off, Matterhorn fully deserves all the accolades it’s been getting in the past few weeks. Ton Kas is phenomenal as the leaden lead Fred, and Diederik Ebbinge proves to be a damn fine writer/director by making Ton’s performance shine as much as it does. Extra points are also scored with the remarkable art direction. In short: highly, highly recommended. (Ard Vijn, twitchfilm.com)