When you talk to children and see the world through their eyes, it’s easy to see why we would want them to stay young and innocent for as long as possible. Because once that’s gone, the bubble is broken and you can never quite rebuild that world in your head nor get any of that innocence back. And it’s in this world that twenty-something Suzanne (Tamara van Sprundel) lives. And after asking her mother (Chantal Demming) subsequently for over eighteen years about her father, it’s easy to understand Suzanne’s frustrations when she receives no answer. Not to mention that her mother isn’t exactly the picture of family stability and Suzanne, having been closest to her grandfather (Fred van Kaam) approaches desperation in search for her dad, seeking her grandfather’s help. But as soon as she gets a lead, she’s thrown into the world of sex slavery with no clue as to the path that led her there and no hope in getting out.
In a lot of ways, Littekens has a lot of potential. And in a lot of other ways, the film tries to do too much. It’s both sad and appealing as a drama, and while it has its moments, it never quite flourishes into something meaningful or powerful, given the subject matter. In defense, it’s a very tough subject to approach and the film’s director tries to bring to light different themes: of father figures, what lies and deception can do to a relationship and how it can endanger someone, motherhood, and the longing of a child, as well as sex slavery and the evil that it is. All of these things are great topics, but trying to be pushed into one film creates a density that would otherwise not have been there if its focus remained on only a couple of these things.
Perhaps it’s the writing that creates the plot jam and affects the film’s ebb and flow and perhaps it’s the way the director sets up the finale that throws the film off its tracks. In any case, all these criticisms in no way means that the film is bad. Its heart is in the right place and there are a few takeaways from the film, like the good performance by Chantal Demming. After a few scenes, you begin to understand why she is the way she is, even though not one word of the truth about her life is revealed until the very end of the film. She’s the image of a “bad mother,” but in not revealing who Suzanne’s father is, she feels she’s protecting her daughter instead of pushing her away.
Tamara van Sprundel plays off of the innocence of her character and never quite leaves that comfort zone. Suzanne is just as childlike at twenty as she is at eight and thirteen. In her desperation for answers, we never really see her grow up. And outside of the yelling matches with her mother, five years pass at a time without any real character development occurring. Fred van Kaam as Suzanne’s grandfather, however, portrays his character in different shades. And although neither character is really very three-dimensional, the scene where he reveals to Suzanne the truth about her father is well played.
Littekens is hard not to appreciate in some way because it’s bold in its attempt to convey and produce a film about a tough topic. But in the end, it doesn’t feel well-balanced in its execution. It doesn’t flow very well from scene to scene and some of the editing, in trying to make more of an emotional impact, doesn’t quite leave a good imprint on the film. It struggles with character development and in trying to portray intense of emotional moments, it never feels completely genuine. It’s a good effort, and one that is to be commended, but ultimately the film lacks finesse and fluidity.