Friday, January 22, 2010

Winter in Wartime **1/2

Director: Martin Koolhoven,
Cast:Martijn Lakemeier, Jamie Campbell Bower, Raymond Thiry
Melody Klaver, Dan van Husen, Tygo Gernandt
Yorick van Wageningen

Set in Holland near the end of WWII, "Winter in Wartime" offers an interesting, if poorly executed, examination of a generation forced to age too quickly.
Michiel (Lakemeier) is a 13 year old boy who witnesses how the Nazis took over his town. We can assume he's lost privileges he once gave for granted and now watches in horror as the German soldiers irrupt into houses and take prisoners that never return.
His father, the mayor (Thiry) has become an ornamental figure, since the Nazis take all the important decisions. Michiel sees this as a sign of weakness and chooses to set his paternal admiration on his uncle Ben (van Wageningen) a mysterious resistance member who warns the boy to stay away from any war business.
The boy isn't able to keep his promise for long when he accidentally becomes caretaker of Jack (Bower), a British pilot whose plane crashed on the outsides of Michiel's town. He finds himself not only hiding a secret that could warrant his execution but also making a symbolic Oedipal transference by acting what he thinks his father should act like.
"I take care of Jack and you shut up!" he screams at his nurse sister Erica (Klaver) when she aids in bandaging the soldier. Michiel's life gets more complicated when his father is held responsible for a crime committed by Jack, which leads to a conflict between his values and feelings.
A satisfying coming of age story, the film is shot in icy blues and whites (to evoke what was the coldest winter in Holland's history) and features some exciting action sequences including a bridge escape that's only botched by crappy editing.
The film has a hard time convincing us of what it wants to be, mostly because within its fairly conventional melodrama it fills itself with facile thrills and plot holes done on the spirit of shocking twists. Almost every action in the film occurs merely to push the action forward and not as some sort of organic succession. We often wonder why is this and this happening to these people if not to put them in perilous, exciting situations.
Fortunately Lakemeier gives an impressive performance that keeps most of the film grounded and he makes the transition of child to adult something easy to empathize with. The screenplay might try to reduce him to sentimental moments but he aptly overcomes them and becomes the movie's greatest ally.
It would've been interesting to see the director develop more the psychological implications of Michiel's forced growth and improvised maturity instead of trying so hard to be an average movie about heroes and lost innocence.

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