Winter in Wartime
Review by Lisa Keddie
MARTIN Koolhoven’s touching and surprisingly consuming coming-of-age wartime tale, Oorlogswinter, or Winter in Wartime, with its turbulent twists that truly test family bonds, is a serious and exciting contender in this year’s foreign-language film Oscar race.
The contemporary film-making style gives it a modern and adventurous feel that will appeal to a younger audience – regardless of the fact that its protagonist is 15-year-old newcomer Martijn Lakemeier who plays Michiel, a teenager who gets a rude awakening to adulthood during the winter of 1944-45, after the crash-landing of a British pilot.
Resistance, it seems, is futile at the time, but it is the youthful dream of change that propels this compelling tale forward and sets it a cut above the rest.
Similar to another well-made Dutch film about the Resistance, Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book (2007), Koolhoven takes his time with character introductions, wisely ensuring that we have all the facts about Michiel, his temperament and his situation to allow us to easily empathise with his difficult family stance – a father and town mayor who must be seen to sympathise with the Nazis, and an uncle who is a troubled Resistance fighter – and the pressure of the oncoming issues of manhood.
Michiel literally grows up and changes before our very eyes, going from boyhood innocence playing with his friend, to gun-wielding protector of fallen English pilot Jack, played by Jamie Campbell Bower, after witnessing the recipient of a letter he is trying to deliver on behalf of the Resistance being executed by German soldiers.
Michiel has to deal with each new adult issue (murder, sex, deceit etc) as it erodes his childhood, but with the added pressure of it being set in wartime.
Lakemeier’s talent is the impressive and expert subtleness he adds to his portrayal, without falling into the realms of sentimentality, as we see all through his eyes and explore his confusion and distrust of those around him.
The story keeps you on your toes as to who is in cahoots with whom, invigorating what could have amounted to an average, even pretentious Resistance tale, by injecting stone-cold tension, with moments of warmth and release.
Koolhoven delivers an explosive start to whet the appetite for the action to come… action that enhances the story, rather than for titillating body-count purposes, and this is a credit to Koolhoven’s writing and directing skills in keeping the art-house sheen to the film, but making it accessible to a wider audience.
Veteran composer Pino Donaggio’s score is the icing on the cake, accompanying the rousing moments and underpinning the smaller ones.
Thankfully, the film ends as it begins, without Michiel becoming am armed militant disappearing into the snowy forest like an extra from Defiance, except he has changed and cannot return to complete normality, even if he wants to.
This is another cinematic human case study from an identity-defining period in history that deserves to be seen.
Running time: 104mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: May 31, 2010