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Legacy Review

The Debut (1977)

At a basic level, The Debut presents a clear and effective metaphor:

A 14-year-old, feeling uneasy with her childhood and a craving for something more adult and fulfilling, begins a romantic (and sexual) relationship with a much older man. The relationship becomes a conduit to adulthood, complicated and full of baggage and loss-of-self.

But in 2021, it’s impossible to overcome the fact that this is a predatory relationship, not a “taboo” or slightly creepy situation. As much as the movie wants this to be a rich story, I was too disgusted the whole time to really crack through the film’s shell.

Director Nouchka van Brakel frames the story almost entirely from teen Carolien’s perspective, mostly avoiding Hugo’s slimy gaze or any Humbert-esque hypocrisy. Brakel is symapthetic to Carolien’s naivete and evolving worldview, as well as her agency.

The film grows darker and more complex in its second half as her relationship Hugo grows sour. There’s a particularly brutal attack on Carolien’s dignity that was tough to watch on top of everything else.

Marina de Graf (aged 18 when it was filmed, but playing 14) leans very hard into Carolien’s youthfulness, with lots of bombastic silly flourishes in her expressions and actions. It’s not a horrible performance, but it is a bit showy.

Despite the film doing some excellent character and thematic work, I simply could not take The Debut at face value due to its premise, and I recommend you stay away as well.

Is It Good?

Not Very Good (3/8)

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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