Clean Hands




A Dutch crime drama that fails to make the most of its material.

Clean Hands


Adapted from a novel by René Appel, this Dutch drama is centred on a situation that is not without potential for an interesting film. It starts out with scenes on a beach showing a father (Jeroen van Koningsbrugge), a mother (Thekla Reuten) and their two children, a daughter who is studying ballet (Bente Fokkens) and a son, much younger and still a junior schoolboy (Nino den Brave). It should be a day’s outing for the family but, not that unusually, dad receives a phone call and has to leave. What makes this different is that the summons comes because the father, Eddie, is involved in criminal activities which his wife, Sylvia, accepts since it pays for their comfortable life-style in Amsterdam.


This feature film by Tjebbo Penning - his third but the first entirely in Dutch and so with subtitles - goes on to show how Sylvia, who has turned away from knowing in any detail what Eddie does, starts to realise not only the kind of men he is involved with but that violence, even murder, has become part of it. He promises to give it all up, but he is misleading her and she sees the need to leave him and, indeed, to leave Holland and to take the children with her. But does she now know too much to be allowed to do this?


If skilfully written the contest between the surface respectability of family life and what is really going on could be the basis of a compelling work. However, the screenplay by Cash Joos and the director is not good enough. Two scenes are so written that they fall into bathos: the first in which it is revealed that dad sells drugs (“and not fishing nets”) and the second in which escape is mooted (“A Caribbean island? A fresh start?”). But in general it is not quite as bad as that, merely decidedly pedestrian and drawn out.


However, if it looks set to get by as a passable piece (Jeroen van Koningsbrugge is well cast as the husband), it declines when Eddie suddenly sinks into madness leading to a contrived climax that is totally over the top. Worse still, that is followed by a coda which is utterly unpersuasive. For older viewers there is a curious footnote in that the thanks in the final credits include the name of the famous feminist filmmaker Marleen Gorris who appears to have provided advice on the writing. Sadly it would seem that she should have offered more, since the material could have yielded a much better film.




Cast: Jeroen van Koningsbrugge, Thekla Reuten, Bente Fokkens, Nino den Brave, Jim van der Woude, Angela Schijf, Cees Geel, Camilla Siegertsz, Tjebbo Gerritsma, Frederik Brom, Trudy de Jong.


Dir Tjebbo Penning, Pro Maaike Benschop and Petra Goedings, Screenplay Carl Joos and Penning from the novel by René Appel, Ph Danny Elsen, Pro Des Kurt Loyens, Ed Philippe Ravoet, Music Han Otten, Costumes Catherine van Bree.


Phanta Film/Eyeworks Film & TV Drama/Mulholland Pictures BV-Matchbox Films.
109 mins. The Netherlands. 2015. Rel: 19 August 2016. Cert. 15.