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Legacy Review

The Cool Lakes of Death (1982)

Nouchka van Brakel’s films center around women asserting their identity via a sexuality outside of the mainstream. In The Cool Lakes of Death, protagonist Hetty’s “taboo” is simply being a woman of assertive sexuality in prudish 19th century bourgeoisie.

The Cool Lakes of Death serves as van Brakel’s grand opus, pulling in every theme under the sun. Hetty’s sex life manifests itself as addiction, parenthood, art, nature, and God.

It’s a film that is cruel to its protagonist; but then van Brakel has always surrounded her protagonists with impending doom. Hetty’s life spirals and spirals to the point that it feels like misery porn at moments. Her reaction to the death of an infant and worst strung-out moments are legitimately tough to watch.

It’s a powerful film, but I’m not totally convinced the cruelty and massive sweep make it a richer film than, say, A Woman Like Eve, which is a much more tender depiction of romance amidst self-actualization. The story runs out of steam rather than hitting a discrete narrative end point, which only amplifies the sense that this movie is an endurance test.

Visually, though, the movie is easily the best of the van Brakel movies I’ve seen. The period production values are a rich delight. The deep colors and shadowy interiors lend the movie a gravity to match its script while never feeling oppressive.

On balance, I admire Cool Lakes of Death, and I’m glad I watched, but I can’t say I’ll ever be excited to watch again.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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