“Winter in Wartime”
Examines Loss of Innocence
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
I don’t mean to compare Dutch writer Jan Terlow’s 1972 novel “Winter in Wartime” to Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler,” but there’s actually a musical being produced based on Terlow’s book.
And there was a popular TV series.
And now a movie that has out-sold “Twilight” and “The Dark Knight” in the Netherlands. Chosen by the Dutch Critics as the best Dutch film of 2008, it won the PZC Audience Award (best movie based on a novel), three Rembrandt Awards, and three Golden Calf Awards.
That film – “Winter in Wartime” (Dutch title: “Oorlogswinter”) – is now showing at the Tropic
Here is the story of a teenaged boy who lives through the last winter of World War II – January 1945. In Nazi-occupied Holland, Michiel van Beusekom (Martijn Lakemeier) is pulled into the Resistance after helping a wounded British paratrooper (Jamie Campbell Bower). Without knowing whom to trust among the townspeople, the boy “confronts good and evil, courage and duplicity, and his own burden of responsibility.” In this snow-covered village, he questions his father’s attempt to maintain a status quo with the German Army, admires his brave uncle Ben, and tries to avoid getting caught.
Masquerading as something of a thriller, “Winter in Wartime” is actually a complex examination of heroism. Or as director Martin Koolhoven describes it, “The loss of innocence. In the beginning of the film the boy wants to become an adult, and by the end he is an adult – but the question is whether he’s so pleased about it.”
Koolhoven explains his choice of material. “War is sharp-edged and bigger than life. It’s mythical and tragic. And in Holland the Second World War is a pervasive theme; if you want to tell a big story and you don’t want to create a fantasy world, you’ll end up in WWII. A war movie has the ‘smell’ of realism along with all the grand themes to explore.”
Young Martijn Lakemeier is surrounded by a fine ensemble cast, but his lead performance stands out. “We tested hundreds of boys,” the director says. “We needed a young actor who could hold his own opposite disciplined trained actors, so we did the rest of the casting after we chose Martijn. They had to fit him.”
Early glimpses of boyish naiveté sets up the film’s tense second half. Lakemeier successfully conveys the emotions of a boy’s coming of age in harsh wartime circumstances, where a stray glance or wrong-spoken word could lead to tragedy.
While the film’s score is magnificent, I’m curious how producers will squeeze a stage musical out of this subject matter. No, “Springtime for Hitler” it’s not.
Forget about the forthcoming musical. “Winter in Wartime” stands proudly on its own as a film about courage, trust, growing up, and war. It deserves all its accolades. The cold-weather setting echoes the film’s chilling story of risky decisions and responsibility. It is war through a boy’s eyes. And heart.
[from Solares Hill]