Around the first few minutes of small Dutch film “Matterhorn”, I had some ideas about what it was going to do, and the movie did not go far from my expectation. The premise of its story is a familiar type from the beginning, and I could see what would happen in the end right from the first encounter between its two main characters. None the less, as it slowly reveals what’s inside its hero as predicted, the movie is oddly interesting to watch not only for its whimsy tone and but also for the poignancy below its dry quirkiness, and it has some unexpected moments to surprise you and touch you.
The movie is how a change is suddenly brought into the barren daily life of Fred(Ton Kas), a devout Protestant guy who has been living alone in his joyless house for years. Except when he goes to the town church along with his neighbours, his life in a quiet country town is utterly devoid of human connection, and we see him stoically following his daily routine every day. When he is about to have a dinner, he waits at the table while patiently looking at the clock, and then he begins to eat his simple meal after the clock strikes the exact time for his dinner.
His reticent face does not tell a lot about his past, but the movie gives us some information about his background as looking around his lonely daily life and his moody living place. We see the photo of him and his wife in front of Mountain Matterhorn, and we learn later that he has a deep regret about not taking his wife to that mountain again while she was alive. He sometimes listens to his young son’s recorded songs, and we can only guess how much he feels morose behind his repressed face, though we do not know the exact reason.
On another day of his uneventful life, Fred happens to notice a mysterious vagabond outside his house. He is hostile to this guy at first, and he even accuses him of thievery, but then, for some vague reason, he decides to let this unknown man stay in his house, and that is the beginning of their odd companionship. The man looks like a mentally disabled guy, and he only says “yep” in most cases while never saying anything about himself, but Fred starts to take care of him as if he were his guardian. Whatever Fred wants from him, this mute man is obedient and harmless on the whole, but his mind always seems to be somewhere beyond reach, and sometimes he looks like a robot learning human behaviors. To be frank with you, I would have not been surprised if he had actually turned out to be an alien from the outer space.
As he stays longer in Fred’ house, Fred’s neighbours, who are as conservative and constipated as Fred, naturally frown upon what’s going on inside his house. After one silly happening, they start to believe that Fred is having a relationship with the man, and one of Fred’s neighbour, who is your average uptight hypocrite, even considers ousting Fred from the church just because of that.
While Fred’s unrevealed motive does not seem to be love, we are not exactly sure about his reasons even though it is apparent that the guy, whose name is turned out be Theo later in the movie, brings a light into Fred’s unhappy life. His presence somehow touches what has been repressed inside Fred for years, and there is a brief but crucial scene in which Fred enters a place he has probably never imagined to visit; his conflicted emotion is palpable during that moment, but we come to learn that his reaction is not as simple as we thought at first.
In case of Theo, it is difficult to tell what he feels or thinks because he is more or less than a blank page, but René van ‘t Hof gives a good minimalistic performance as the counterpart to his co-actor Ton Kas. There are several scenes which could have been pretty embarrassing to play, but van ‘t Hof always stays inside his character while never reaching for effect, and I found myself sort of liking Theo although, like Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man”(1988), he still remains in the place beyond our reach even in the end.
And we gradually come to realize what the movie is really about as its seemingly predictable plot reveals more about its characters, and its main pleasure comes from how the director/writer Diederik Ebbinge pulls unexpected things out of his story and characters. After Theo gets noticed because of his silly childish behaviors at one point, Fred finds himself doing performances with Theo for birthday parties for children, and Kas and van ‘t Hof create the moments of weird hilarity while keeping their appearances straight in front of their young audiences. We are also amused to learn that Fred’s hypocrite neighbour turns to have his own understandable unhappiness behind his mean accusation, and there is a warm scene when we get to know a little about Theo’s past through Saskia(Ariane Schluter), a gentle woman who still loves and cares about him as before though it probably does not matter to him much.
“Matterhorn” is a nice little quirky movie about companionship and acceptance, and I enjoyed its dry offbeat humor and the warmth behind it. In case of its melodramatic finale which eventually reveals something Fred has been reluctant to talk about, I will not describe it in details, but let’s say it depends on Ton Kas’ wordless but heartfelt performance which says a lot more than his character wants to say. His more troubled face shows a man struggling with a certain fact he still cannot deal with well, but, through his odd experience with Theo, Fred is already making a choice despite his reluctance, and it is touching to see him eventually overcoming what has been suppressing him for many years. He just shouts one word in the end, but that is more than enough for us to see how much he is changed.