When Dutch arthouse auteur turned Hollywood blockbuster filmmaker Paul Verhoeven (Turkish Delight, Robocop) returned to the Netherlands to make his first Dutch film in over two decades, Zwartboek (2006) aka Black Book starring Nordic blonde beauty Carice van Houten with a bad dye job in the patently absurd role of a Jewess in the Dutch resistance who infiltrates the SS SD and seduces a Hauptsturmführer, I was terribly disappointed as it demonstrated the aesthetically and socio-politically deleterious effect that his twenty years in Tinseltown had had on his film making. Indeed, Verhoeven is responsible for directing one of the greatest and most critically revered Dutch war films ever made, Soldaat van Oranje (1977) aka Soldier of Orange, which featured none of the absolutely odious Zionist-pandering or soullessly sleek film making that plagued the obscenely overrated Black Book. Despite the fact that he has yet to make it to Hollywood, relatively young and popular Dutch auteur Martin Koolhoven (De grot aka The Cave, Het zuiden aka South) has already demonstrated that he has been poisoned by the conspicuously clichéd, contrived, and sentimental Spielberg brand of WWII filmmaking with his most recent work Winter in Wartime (2008) aka Oorlogswinter based on the popular best-selling 1972 novel of the same name by Dutch politician and scientist Jan Terlouw. The story of a 14-year-old Dutch boy who gets involved with the resistance after finding an injured British RAF airman in the woods and naively sees it as a sort of heroic adventure to help the Brit avoid being captured by the Germans, source writer Terlouw, who was 8-years-old during the German occupation of the Netherlands, said his intent with the novel was, “to make it clear to readers that they shouldn't think, after finishing the book, that the war had somehow been a glorious period; the second was to provide—in a moderate manner—a human face for the Germans...,” yet the Teutonic invaders hardly have a human face in Koolhoven’s film, which depicts the Huns as boorish automatons who are just too plain dumb and slavishly subservient to notice the evilness of their atrocious actions. Strategically utilizing some of the ugliest untermensch-esque actors they could find to play Germans (e.g. Dan van Husen) and shot from the perspective of a 14-year-old that looks and acts more like a 10-year-old who thinks girls have cooties, especially when considering the time period in which the film takes place, Winter in Wartime features an extravagantly stylized cardboard tale of morality that attempts to disguise its dichotomous grade school level view of good and evil with pseudo-poetic melodramatic slow-motion scenes that beg for profoundness but scream of accidental kitsch and vulgar asininity. Indeed, the film is like the Dutch equivalent of Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) minus the Soviet propaganda and as made for Hollywood-lobotomized toddlers and American tourists. A work that barely scratches the surface of what the Dutch really suffered during the end of the Second World War, Winter in Wartime might as well have been directed by any Hollywood hack as one could probably learn just as much about the Dutch wartime experience had a proud protege of Michael Bay assembled the film. Curiously set during the end of WWII in the winter time yet making no reference to the ‘Hongerwinter’ famine of 1944-1945 in which as many as 22,000 Dutch people starved to death and could not be buried because the ground was frozen solid, Koolhoven’s film ultimately makes the war seem like a minor annoyance that caused a couple mischievous people some slight discomfort when in reality it devastated the entire country, destroyed what was left of the Dutch empire, and arguably irreparably destroyed the spirit of the Dutch people. Indeed, the Netherlands did not go from being best known by foreigners for windmills and wooden clogs to legal weed and hookers for nothing.
To my complete and utter shock, director Martin Koolhoven stated in a September 2013 interview with BelleOog, “WINTER IN WARTIME is the first film since AMNESIA where…the first idea was completely mine. I said I wanted to do this. I already said I wanted to do this before I was doing SOUTH. I said it to that producer Els Vandevorst […] that was the movie that was ‘me.’ And I had a much higher ambition on an artistic level. Funny enough, it was the big success.” Of course, anyone that knows anything about Dutch film history realizes that WWII flicks tend to be the most profitable and all around successful works in the Netherlands as Paul Rotha’s The Silent Raid (1962) aka De Overval, Verhoeven’s Soldier of Orange and Black Book, Fons Rademakers’ The Dark Room of Damocles (1963) aka Als twee druppels water and The Assault (1986) aka De aanslag, Roeland Kerbosch’s For a Lost Soldier (1992) aka Voor een verloren soldaat, and Ben Sombogaart’s Twin Sisters (2002) aka De tweeling, among various other works, clearly demonstrate, so Koolhoven should not have been too surprised that Winter in Wartime was such a big hit in the Netherlands as it seems like it was practically specially tailored to be a celluloid cash-cow that would win all the awards and make him a household name. For Koolhoven to say that Winter in Wartime is his most personal ‘auteurist’ work since his debut feature AmnesiA—a darkly comedic and oftentimes surreal work that seems to combine elements of works by Andrei Tarkovsky, Adriaan Ditvoorst, and David Lynch—seems nothing short of patently preposterous to the point of abject absurdity. Not only is the film seen from the perspective of a boy, but it is also a work that will appeal to mostly young boys as a sort of ‘teen arthouse’ flick that does for the Second World War what Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish (1983) did for teenage rebel flicks. Additionally, the Dutch are easily one of the least sentimental, unemotional, and ‘no bullshit’ type of people in the world, so for Koolhoven to take such a superlatively sentimentalist approach to World War II is nothing short of disgraceful and totally unrepresentative of his countrymen and how the war affected them. I’m not Dutch, but my grandfather was and he was a messenger in the resistance who was shot in the head by a German soldier (the bullet only grazed his skull) and whose family hid a Jewish girl in their house, yet he never mentioned any of these things to my mother during his entire life (it was only at the end his life when my aunt coerced him into talking about his experiences during WWII that he ever revealed any of this) and sure as hell did not tell sentimental stories about his wartime escapades which, as far as I could tell, totally destroyed his entire life, hence why he immigrated to an uncultivated nation like the United States. Ultimately, Winter in Wartime is a fanciful borderline-fever-dream depiction of the Second World War from a Dutch filmmaker who, unlike Verhoeven, did not personally experience the German occupation and thus romanticizes it in a pseudo-poetic fashion that oftentimes looks ‘pretty’ and ‘elegant’ (not surprisingly, Koolhoven has described spaghetti westerns like Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence (1968) and Sergio Martino’s A Man Called Blade (1977) as having an influence on the film), but is ultimately about as profound as an exploding cyst. Indeed, even the obscenely overrated and sickeningly sentimental pro-pederast flick For a Lost Soldier—a film based on the autobiographical novel of the same name written by gay ballet dancer and choreographer Rudi van Dantzig, who managed to die of male breast cancer (combined with lymphoma)—features a more insightful depiction of the effects that WWII had on the Netherlands in its unintentionally allegorical depiction of a Canadian soldier in his early-20s seducing and buggering a vulnerable and highly impressionable 12-year-old Dutch boy.