Martijn Lakemeier, York van Wageningen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Melody Klaver
Martin Koolhoven, Jan Terlouw, Mieke de Jong, Paul Jan Nelissen
The second Sony Classics indie to hit Indianapolis's Keystone Art Cinema in one weekend, Martin Koolhoven's Winter in Wartime was the official entry from The Netherlands for the 2011 Oscar Awards. While the film isn't really quite of Oscar caliber, Winter in Wartime is a well made and emotionally involving film set in Holland during Germany's World War II occupation of the country.
Young Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) is a curious and rather angry boy whose father (Raymond Thiry) is mayor and spends his days mostly biding his time and trying to appease the German soldiers in hopes that some will be spared. Michiel seems to regard this as at least modestly cooperative with the Germans, and while resenting his father seems to identify strongly with his Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen). Michiel joins a pal in raiding a nearby bomber that has crashed and is being closely guarded by the Nazis. What nobody realizes is that the bomber's pilot (Jamie Campbell Bower) survived the crash, and it is Michiel who discovers him and essentially adopts him in an effort to aid his recovery and help him get from behind enemy lines. As one might expect, this proves to be a more daunting task than expected, and before long Michiel realizes he is in over his head and the risks begin to mount.
Director Martin Koolhoven does a nice job creating a physically and emotionally harrowing atmosphere, while also allowing for Michiel's somewhat romanticized view of the notion of freedom fighting and opposition to the Nazis. While natural conflicts aren't well developed, for example the true motions of Michiel's father are never really explained, Winter in Wartime may be one of the few films that paints the story through the eyes of a young teen while constructing a film that hold the attention of adults. There's no question that this film isn't a Tarantino film, but the goal here isn't necessarily wartime authenticity but atmospheric and emotional authenticity.
Winter in Wartime never quite transcends its rather predictable story, but what it does accomplish is presented well with strong performances from both Lakemeier and Bower and production values that are rock solid across the board. D.P. Guido Van Gennep's camera work is pristine and yet stark, Floris Vos's production design does a stellar job of creating a sense of the small village's growing desperation with its falling snow and Pino Donaggio's original score heightens the film's often soaring dramatic arc.
The film very nearly collapses in its final third as Koolhoven adds on a bit too much in the way of melodrama and the story itself begins to feel manipulative, but by the time this occurs he's build such a strong investment in these characters that it is impossible to not finish the film with a sigh of relief and an appreciation for the beauty and power of what has unfolded.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic