Woman Between Wolf and Dog (1979)

Rating: D+

Dir: André Delvaux
Star: Marie-Christine Barrault, Roger Van Hool, Rutger Hauer, Senne Rouffaer
a.k.a. Een vrouw tussen hond en wolf or Woman in a Twilight Garden

This Belgian drama covers fifteen years in the life of its central character, Lieve (Barrault) – and by the end, feels like it’s unfolding in real time. Things begin in Antwerp just before the opening of World War II, when she’s married to Adriaan (Hauer), who is a bit of a Flemish nationalist. Belgium remains neutral, which works right up until the country gets occupied by Germany, and Adriaan goes off to fight. For the Nazis. Specifically, as a member of SS. Awkward! As the tide of the war turns, Lieve becomes nervous about her husband’s collaboration. Fortunately, she has a pal in the resistance, François (Van Hool), who gradually becomes her lover.

Thanks to him vouching for her, at conflict’s end, Lieve dodges the fate of those judged to be traitors. However, it turns out that Adriaan is still alive, and his return to Antwerp makes for another obviously awkward situation. François (with remarkable kindness, all things considered) helps Adriaan avoid the potential death penalty, and he eventually resumes his role as Lieve’s husband. But he has trouble re-adjusting to civilian life, or coming to terms with having been on the losing side. Not even the child he has with Lieve seems to make much of a difference. Delvaux deserves credit for not adopting a simple approach to the topic. Yet, Christ on a cracker, it’s dull.

The problems are multiple. Van Hool has no screen presence at all, and no chemistry with Barrault. Quite why she falls for him is impossible to see. It might have worked better if the makers had swapped the roles of Van Hool and the charismatic Hauer. Admittedly, the former might not have been sufficiently Aryan to play an SS officer. The other major issue is, the script has no clue what to do with Adriaan after he returns home. It’s reasonably interesting during the war, when there’s the tension of Lieve, balancing a shaky fidelity for her husband with the equally token, apparently, love for her nation. When this is removed, and we realize she will face no consequences for her actions, things grind to a halt, because nothing replaces it. 

At least we do get an early appearance from Jean-Claude Van Damme. No, seriously: he makes his screen debut, briefly appearing in a couple of uncredited roles, including a movie theatre patron (see if you can spot him, top). It would be a further five years before appearance #2 would occur. Shame this wasn’t about him teaming up with the resistance, to kick Nahzee arse. Instead, the movie dwindles away to a series of scenes which seem to serve little point, and possess no detectable narrative flow. There are points at which this feels like a TV movie, fading to black as if suddenly realizing it’s time for a commercial break. On the whole, I might have preferred to watch one, than a film with such little idea what to do with its characters.