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Martijn Lakemeier in WINTER IN WARTIME (Photo: Sony Classics Pictures)

Directed by Martin Koolhoven
Produced by
Els Vandevorst & San Fu Maltha
Written by
Koolhoven Mieke de Jong & Paul Jan Nelissen, based on the novel Oorlogswinter by Jan Terlouw
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
Dutch, English & German with English subtitles
Netherlands/Belgium. 103 min. Rated R
Martijn Lakemeier, Raymond Thiry, Yorick van Wageningen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Melody Klaver, Jessie van Driel & Mees Peijnenburg

Winter in Wartime effectively takes on the challenge of making World War II immediate to broad audiences today. Quite realistically, teenagers are among those caught up on all sides of the war in the winter of 1945 Nazi-occupied Holland, beginning the moment a young British paratrooper crashes in a snowy forest and is hunted by boyish German soldiers.

Wartime seems like an exciting excuse for adventures for two Dutch 13 year olds, Theo (Jessie van Driel) and Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier), who bike around the downed plane and hunt for souvenirs. However, Michiel has a false sense of security. His father is the mayor, who has tried to shield him, and his town, from the brunt of Nazi control, getting close to the line of collaboration. But the parachute and its cargo set off a ripple effect through the snow and ice, leading to the killing of a German patrolman and the consequential crackdown on local resistance supporters, including the arrest of Theoís just-a-bit older brother Dirk (Mees Peijnenburg). Dirk entrusts a map to Michiel, and he follows it through the woods to find a treasure underground in a hunting cabinóthe wounded British pilot. Michiel is thrilled to sneak him food and supplies.

Logistically and morally, his secret game becomes complicated, and the dilemmas add considerable grit to the film (presumably leading to the too-harsh R rating for a glimpse of sex and violence). His comings and goings are noticed suspiciously by a visiting uncle, who has brought gifts of extra ration cards and a radio in a hidden suitcase. Reluctantly, Michiel has to bring his pretty older sister Erica (Melody Klaver), a nurse, into his confidence in order to help the Britís festering wound. To Michielís naÔve jealousy and surprise, she develops her own reasons for frequently sneaking off to the cabin.

The Nazis ratchet up the pressure with more arrests and threats of retaliatory executions, and the mayor puts his own life on the line. Michielís derring-do to aid the pilot stretches credibility a bit of what a boy his age could accomplish. However, the risky ambiguities and challenges while living in an extreme situation are not glossed over, convincingly demonstrating that war makes teenagers grow up quickly. These difficulties were experienced by Dutch author Jan Terlouw and inspired his semi-autobiographical young adult novel (out in English next month).

Making an involving (and beautiful looking) feature film about a boy in this now-distant period for a wide audience today is quite a feat. Without the nostalgia of John Boormanís Hope and Glory (1987) and Louis Malleís Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987), or the incredulity of Mark Hermanís fable The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008), director/co-writer Martin Koolhoven brings both historical and contemporary resonances to an exciting morality tale. Nora Lee Mandel
March 18, 2011



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