WINTER IN WARTIME
By Gary Murray
Starring Martijn Lakemeier, Yorick van Wageningen and Jamie Campbell Bower
Written by Martin Koolhoven and Paul Jan Nelissen
Directed by Martin Koolhoven
Running time 103 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
If one would hazard to bet, the most filmed war has to be World War II. In just thinking about the elements of drama, the war had it all. With so many theaters of engagement, the war has generated many and varied stories. The latest is the foreign film Winter in Wartime and it is a great bit of cinema.
Winter in Wartime takes place in 1945 in the Dutch countryside. Two thirteen year-old boys find the wreckage of an English plane. Where they see it as something to explore, the local Nazis see it as a possible British soldier on the land. The boys are caught with the plane and taken to the local commander. One boy Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) is recognized as the mayor’s son. It seems that the mayor (Raymond Thiry) has been doing everything to stay neutral, trying to protect both his family and the town. Michiel sees this as being a coward.
Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen) comes to visit. Michiel sees Uncle Ben as the opposite of his father, a mysterious man who seems to know everything going on in the resistance. Somewhere in the village, there is an informer trying to help the Nazis win. Where Ben in interested in finding out all the details, the mayor wants to stay neutral to protect everyone.
Michiel, though a series of adventures, discovers that the British pilot Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower) is hiding in the woods. Our young man is slowly being caught up in the war, trying to help Jack get across the river and to the safety of another country. At the same time, it seems that all the connections to the underground are being exposed. Winter in Wartime ties all these elements into both an action-adventure thriller and a coming of age drama. It is a brilliant piece of film and deserving of all the acolates it generated in the 2010 Oscar race.
Martijn Lakemeier just wins with his portrayal of Michiel, the kid who is forced to become a man. Where he sees the world in broad brushstrokes of right and wrong, he also begins to see that there are areas of gray. He hates the Nazis but one rescues him when he falls into the river. The contradictions of the world start to show that the world is much more complicated than he first thought. There is this wide-eyed innocence that eventually turns into a determined grit as so many elements beyond the youngsters control make forced choices of fate.
Director Martin Koolhoven weaves the plot elements together into a narrative that captivates. He makes all of his characters people and not just short hand caricatures. It is refreshing to see that not all of the ‘evil people’ are evil and neither are all the ‘good people’ perfect. Much like life, he gives us true characters all full of faults and doubts. Even in the smaller parts, he finds the right beat. Everyone in this world has this element of real and abject fear.
Winter in Wartime is one of my favorite films of the year and well deserved of all the praises received. It runs like a cross between Hope and Glory and Black Book, two of the best films about the war. It is simply brilliant work that should not be missed.