Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Winter in Wartime (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Winter in Wartime

Although set in a different country, if you ever wondered what a boy with a "Dragon Tattoo" might look like when faced with a Nazi occupied Netherlands, then "Winter in Wartime" is your film.
This production is stark with crisp cinematography and despite its plot seeming like a Hardy Boys mystery, it manages some Saturday matinee thrills. Young Michiel (Martijin Lakemeier) is a young inquisitive boy in the midst of Nazi occupation. He knows Nazis are the enemy of course, and like most young boys he likes action. WWI planes hang in his room and German helmets are stacked on his shelf like dinner plates. Michiel enjoys adventure. Watching from his window, he sees a fiery plane. He trudges across the field looking a bit like a vintage Tin-Tin comic strip with blondish hair and spacey blue eyes. Michiel finds the plane in pieces, resembling a beached militaristic whale.

Intrigue begins. The boy finds an aloof RAF soldier Jack. (Jamie Campbell Bower) There are numerous close calls from Nazis similar to other films and suspicious glances from Michiel's father (Raymond Thiry) who happens to be mayor. Lakemeier acts like a kind of junior Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window" often spying on his father's seemingly hidden activities. With his astonished face you can almost hear him exclaim in a 1940s American accent: "Gee Whiz! Dad's laughing with those Nazis! Gosh!" Like L.B. Jefferies too, Michiel is awfully sneaky, hiding baguettes or even a fresh killed rabbit to head off the trail. Nothing's too good for Jack.

Despite its somewhat serialized feeling, aimed for younger audiences, the actors hold their characters together and the Nazis are appropriately menacing just as you would expect. The head officer looks as scary as any artwork by Georg Grosz or Otto Dix--fat and formidable.
Martijin Lakemeier is the soul of the film: wide-eyed, pensive and stricken by sadness, you really feel him in this role and his acting goes beyond a Tv after-school special. In one scene, Michiel gets a ride in a Nazi Jeep, wearing a German helmet. And for a split second, you wince at the young boy's ambivalence in adventure, as if he, like Anakin Skywalker, might just turn to the Dark Side. It a genuine unconventional moment-- Ghastly and haunting.

The drama moves at a gallop. There are many covert looks through keyholes and door-cracks. The scenery is frost inducing, guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

The soundtrack at key moments seems heavily influenced by the "Dragon Tattoo" trilogy. We don't need to be cued by a foreboding score to be told when someone is villainous.

But wait this is for kids, no? And even if the action unfolds in a tumble as in an old "Lone Ranger" serial, "Winter in Wartime" still should be of interest for young historians, hungry for a war account of a father, a son and their shifty uncle.

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