This is a story about a thirteen year old boy who has his childhood innocence snatched from him during the Nazi occupation of Holland in World War ll. It’s chilling and heartwarming and is told through the eyes of a young hero who requires no Dutch courage to carry out his manly tasks.
It’s 1945 and the snow capped woods are alive with German soldiers looking for a British RAF pilot who parachuted from his stricken plane. Thirteen year old Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) and his friend sneak onto the plane’s wreckage in search of souvenirs and think it’s a great adventure when they are spotted and chased by the Gestapo. Michiel is caught and brought before the local Nazi commander but refuses to give the name of his friend. His observance of omerta attracts the attention of a member of the Dutch Resistance who entrusts Michiel with some information about the pilot; thus Michiel’s romance with the underground begins.
There are many moments in this film that take us into the heart of the terrifying ordeal a Dutch family has to endure. We hold our breath when we hear the roll of a Gestapo jeep as it chugs ever closer to their home, worry with them as they hear the trudge of boots on fresh fallen snow and breathe a sigh of relief when the invaders knock someone else’s door. Then we feel fear anew as we peep through the curtains and watch their neighbors get beaten and dragged from their beds, pleading desperately that their loved ones be saved.
It’s tough to capture an adult audience through the mind of a child, but the writers do just that, keeping everything steeped in reality and never letting it get sentimental. They also don’t make Michiel into such a perfect child that he becomes unrelatable and, ultimately, boring. He’s just a normal teenager who never listens to a word his parents say, tells lies like a good ‘un and hates his elder sister with a passion. But it’s this very defiance that is turned on its head to give credibility to Michial’s choices that take us on our journey. He confronts good and evil, courage and duplicity, and takes the burden of responsibility on shoulders that had before only ever carried a school bag.
There have been numerous films about the French Resistance but hardly any about the Dutch Underground, which means the French still feel the need to defend their swift capitulation to the Germans, while the Dutch don’t. This could be due to the fact that the French get uptight about everything, but it could also be due to the fact that drugs in Holland are legal and there’s nothing quite like a joint to turn everything pleasantly hazy and, if the rest of the world wants to keep telling bad surrender jokes 60 years after the event, c’est la vie.
Adapted from the novel Winter In Wartime by Jan Terlouw, who spent five years under German occupation.
Netherlands – 27 November 2008
Belgium – 3 December 2008
UK – 12 February 2010 (limited)
Germany – 17 January 2011 (DVD premiere)
USA – 18 March 2011 (limited)