WINTER IN WARTIME Movie Review
If you think war movies are at their most affecting when they narrow their scope significantly, focusing on a single event and its repercussions, rather than explaining strategy and re-enacting great battles, the Dutch movie WINTER IN WARTIME might be for you.
Nazi-occupied Holland, 1945. Near the end of World War II in a snow-covered village, thirteen-year-old MICHIEL (Martijn Lakemeier) is drawn into the Resistance when he aids a British soldier (Jamie Campbell Bower) trapped behind enemy lines. Michiel’s boyish sense of defiance and adventure soon turns to danger and desperation, as he’s forced to act without knowing whom to trust among the adults and townspeople around him as he tries to aid the soldier with his wounds, keep him out of German hands, and help him escape to the relative safety of the city across the river.
Michiel feels resentment towards his father (Raymond Thiry), the town’s mayor, for seemingly working too hard to appease the Germans, but worships his uncle Ben, played brilliantly by Yorick van Wageningen (The Chronicles of Riddick, The New World, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2011), an adventurer in contact with the local resistance. Michiel’s trust in his uncle’s ability to protect the family is tested when Michael’s father is arrested by the Nazis, and Michiel must decide whether to give up the pilot in order to save his father’s life himself. Wartime’s harsh reality encroaches on childhood innocence as Michiel confronts good and evil, courage and duplicity, and his own burden of responsibility.
The film’s sense of place and time is expertly rendered as we alternate between the claustrophobic small town and the seemingly endless forest surrounding it, crawling with Germans. The technology (or lack thereof), medicine, and sense of tension and dread at each appearance the Nazis make, just feels true. Thiry is fantastic as Michiel’s father, a pivotal character in many ways, always trying to walk the line between aiding the Germans enough so that they leave the townspeople alone, but not so much that he betrays his own strong sense that these are soldiers on an immoral mission who are becoming more desperate by the day as the Allies and the resistance continue to score victories against them, large and small. The relationship between him and his son Michiel is always strained and never precious.
Directed by Martin Koolhoven, who also wrote the screenplay with Mieke de Jong and Paul Jan Nelissen, from the book by Jan Terlouw, Winter in Wartime is a nice little slice of character-driven WW2, with really sound performances and even a few unusual plot turns. It does get a touch melodramatic at times (maybe just a bit over-scored musically), but it’s recommend it to anyone interested in a European war drama. Despite a couple of laughably poor action scenes that call reality into question for a moment or two, this is a fine film and worth your time.