REVIEW: DVD Release: Winter In Wartime

Film: Winter In Wartime
Release date: 31st May 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 103 mins
Director: Martin Koolhoven
Starring: Martijn Lakemeier, Yorick Van Wageningen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Melody Klaver, Anneke Blok
Genre: War/Drama
Studio: Kaleidoscope
Format: DVD
Country: Netherlands

Based on a popular Dutch youth novel from 1975, Winter In Wartime (Oorlogswinter) is an unpretentious tale of an adolescents’ transformation into manhood towards the end of the Second World War, and he having to come to terms with the complexities of the adult world.

The story is set in a Nazi occupied village in Holland, and centres on a 14-year-old boy named Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier), the son of the local Mayor, Johan (Raymond Thiry). Michiel doesn’t conceal his contempt towards the Germans, especially since he believes his father is always ‘sucking up’ to them in a bid to keep on their good side.

Since the Occupation of the Nazis, life has become rather mundane for the Dutch boy who desires for a little excitement to relieve the hours of boredom, and the arrival of his beloved uncle Ben (Yorick Van Wageningen), a member of the résistance, only infuses his need of adventure.

On a bitterly cold night, he gets his wish when he sees a burning plane descend into the woods. By way of a friend’s brother, who is also part of the résistance, Michiel comes into the possession of a piece of paper with directions to the whereabouts of the British fighter pilot called Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower) who survived the crash. He locates the wounded airman and decides to help him escape. But his actions have devastating consequences and his innocence is lost forever...

Winter In Wartime is a coming-of-age film that uses the Second World War as its backdrop. Surprisingly this works extremely well, with much of the credit having to go to its leading player, Martijn Lakemeier, who delivers a powerful portrayal as the protagonist Michiel. His transformation into manhood takes place steadily over the course of the film, and considering Lakemeier is a first-timer, his acting ability is mature and convincing, and he steals almost every scene. The other cast members do a great job, and underplay their parts in order not to over shadow Lakemeier.

The craftsmanship of the crew must not go unrecognised either. The cinematography, photographed by Guido Van Gennep, is quite stunning. As the camera pans across the snowy picturesque landscape, we see the contrast between a beautiful Dutch village and the ugliness of war.

Although the film is set during the 1940s, it does have a contemporary feel to it. Being a story that was written for young adults, the action sequences tend to, on occasion, balance between reality and fantasy. But when it does slip slightly over into the realm of disbelief, reality soon pulls it back. Unlike many other war films, the body-count in this feature is rather low, which gives those few death scenes that the film does contain much more impact.

Up until the first half-hour of the film, Michiel’s naïve understanding of the circumstances that take place around him are perhaps typical for a boy his age in that kind of situation. He sees his father as a weak figure that’s always agreeable with the Nazis, but he is, in effect, making his judgement by looking through the eyes of an adolescent, and doesn’t fully appreciate, at this point, the predicament his father is in. However, not all respect has been lost. A tender moment shared between father and son comes when Michiel is taught how to shave, a scene that puts him one step up on the ladder to adulthood.

Through certain events, which force him to “grow up,” Michiel starts to realise things aren’t so black-and-white anymore. One particular scene, which has him being saved by a German soldier after he falls into an ice-covered lake, demonstrates perfectly this new confused state of mind he now possesses, and his altered perception of the world in which he lives. As the film progresses, the circumstances that start to develop lead Michiel to question the sincerity of those closest to him and his loyalty to his family.

The film isn’t faultless by any means. For instance, the bonding between Michiel’s sister Erica (Melody Klaver) and the English airman Jack appears a little too rushed, but, nevertheless, their intimacy is needed in order for the character of Erica to play a vital role in assisting the wounded pilot in his attempt at escape.

Winter In Wartime is an enjoyable and gripping yarn that keeps the viewer intrigued all the way through, producing an ace card by presenting a twist in the narrative towards the film’s end. A well deserved candidate for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. SLP

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