The Debut

A Review

image: Good Times
“Het Debuut” aka “The Debut”, 1977, Nouchka van Brakel
“The Debut” is yet another film in which a teenage girl has an affair with a much older man. The IMDB movie database lists over 100 such films under the title “Films of Young Women Coming of Age”. This one however is told in a nuanced way and from the girl's point of view.
We see Carolien on a bicycle during both the beginning and ending credits.
image: Beginning and Ending Credits
At the end she appears much more lady like.
Nouchka Van Brakel directed and co-wrote “The Debut” having taken the story from a novel of the same name. Both the novelist and the director are Dutch women. Culture and gender enabled them to show Carolien's enthusiasm for an affair she both initiates and ends while at the same time including the inevitable complications.
image: Hooray I lost my virginity
In this scene Carolien runs out onto a hotel balcony to share with the world her joy at having lost her virginity—a childish reaction to a more grown-up experience.
It is Carolien who first lays hands on Hugo, not the other way around. We have a hint that this is the way it will be in an allegorical scene.
image: Chasing kites
Two kites fly past Carolien and she tries to catch them. She almost does but they fly free and attempt to ensnare Hugo as they leave. Although we don't know it yet, Carolien is about to ensnare Hugo into something that won't work.
It is of course her youth and looks that let Carolien seduce Hugo. In the first steps he follows willingly into her more childish world.
image: Mocking a realtor
Here they are mocking a realtor who has been praising how very comfortable every chair in a furnished apartment is.
But Hugo is 41, symbolically the opposite of Carolien's 14. He is completely out of place at a teenage party she brings him to—just as out of place as she is in a fancy restaurant he brings her to.
Van Brakel's film is well made and there are several artful nuances. Another example is the way in which we learn that Carolien takes control of sex. The point is made without any hint of pornography.
In spite of the film's quality “The Debut” has a poor rating of 5.8 at IMDB. At first I thought this was because of the taboo we place on such relationships. But there are other films that break the same taboo and get better ratings. I suspect that the problem with “The Debut” is that it involves ordinary people. Hugo is no predator. Carolien is no nymphomanic. These ordinary people actually get away with breaking a taboo.
Not that they get away scot-free. Hugo faces a hotel staff who believe sexploitation is going on. Carolien must deal as best she can with a classmate who thinks that her relationship with Hugo means she is freely available to anybody who wants her.
At the end of the film, Carolien's mother puts together the clues she has been given and recognizes what has happened. Her first reaction is anger.
image: Sympathy
But her anger very quickly gives way to empathy for what her daughter is going through. What might that be? Is Carolien merely feeling the pangs of an impossible relationship that seemed so wonderful at the beginning? Or is she forever scarred by her experience? This film, which is rigidly honest as far as it goes, gives no hint of the latter. As for those of us in the audience, I suppose we will project our own biases into the answer.
J Adrian Zimmer
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