This dark drama from the Netherlands won the 1998 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Dreverhaven (Jan Decleir), the most ruthless and intimidating bailiff in Rotterdam, is brutally murdered, and a young attorney, Katadreuffe (Fedja Van Huet), is arrested in connection with the crime. Under questioning, the angry young lawyer reveals a hidden motive for the killing -- he is Dreverhaven's illegitimate son. Katadreuffe's mother, Joba (Betty Schuurman) had an affair with Dreverhaven but refused to marry him, preferring to raise her son on her own, despite her difficult economic circumstances. Eventually, Joba takes in a boarder, Jan Maan (Hans Kesting), and Jan becomes something of a father figure to the boy, urging him to improve himself and pursue new opportunities in business. As a young man, Katadreuffe takes Jan's advice to heart and obtains a bank loan to open a cigar shop. The shop soon fails, and Katadreuffe must negotiate terms with the bank to pay off his debt. The young man discovers that the bank is managed by Dreverhaven and learns that his father has no desire to help him. While obtaining legal advice on his problems with the bank, Katadreuffe becomes interested in the study of law, and after a great deal of struggle, he makes his way through law school and obtains a low-level position with a prominent legal firm. However, his father often appears along the way, berating Katadreuffe and convincing him that he's doomed for failure, until the young man becomes convinced that Dreverhaven controls his entire life and wants nothing more than to destroy him. Karakter was based on a novel by Ferdinand Bordewijk that was a major bestseller in the Netherlands.
by Mark Deming synopsis