Feb 22, 2015

Winter in Wartime

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.

 Michiel van Beusekom (Martijn Lakemeier) is a slightly rebellious 14-year-old Dutch boy who thinks his father Johan (Raymond Thiry) is a pansy pushover because he is the mayor of his town yet is keeping the peace with the dastardly German occupiers, who have been arresting and killing members of the shadowy resistance. Michiel practically worships his uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen) even though he is a deadbeat because he is apparently a member of the resistance and is fighting the Germans in his own personal way, or so the terribly naive protagonist believes. It is obvious that Ben is a loser as he constantly hangs out with his nephew as though they were brothers, despite being a middle-aged man, while his brother is a successful family man and respected mayor of an entire town. When Michiel’s friend Dirk (Mees Peijnenburg), a member of the resistance, gives him a message just before he is arrested to give to a blacksmith named Bertus van Gelder (Tygo Gernandt) who is ultimately killed by a kraut, the protagonist decides to read the letter and ultimately finds the coordinates to the wooded hideout of a British airman named Jack (played by less than masculine Twilight star Jamie Campbell Bower) whose plane crash landed in the Netherlands. Despite the fact that Jack is kind of an arrogant and seemingly ungrateful scrawny little twat who seems to have no qualms about putting a underage kid's life in great danger, Michiel fetishizes the resistance so much that he is more than happy to risk his young life and get the Brit to the nearby town of Zwolle, but a problem arises when the airmen is unable to walk due to an infected leg injury, so the protagonist gets his somewhat Jewish-looking nurse sister Erica (Melody Zoë Klaver) to help clean-up the wounds. Needless to say, Jack and Erica fall in love and Michiel becomes exceedingly jealous, but he is soon going to have more serious and potentially deadly things to worry about involving virtually everyone in the protagonist's rather sheltered bourgeois family.

 When the Germans find the corpse of one of their comrades who was killed by Jack shortly after his plane crashed in the Netherlands, Michiel’s mayor father is arrested and subsequently publicly executed with two other men as an example to the Dutch to not mess with the almighty occupier. In an unintentionally absurdist piece of Spielberg-esque agitprop, two German soldiers laugh in a stupidly sinister fashion while holding Michiel back while his father is being executed via firing squad. Of course, had the protagonist turned Jack in instead of helping him, his father would have never been killed in the first place. During Johan’s funeral a group of coldhearted Gestapo agents break into Michiel’s family home and wreck the place, including smashing the protagonist’s grieving mother’s fancy dishware. Despite the fact that Jack’s leg seemed like it was going to rot off only a couple days before, he and Michiel soon make an attempt to travel to the town of Zwolle but their plan is foiled by a unit of Germans that were hiding by a riverbed and thus they must make a great escape while the Nazis are chasing them through a forest on machine gun-blasting motorcycles. During the chase scene, Jack proves he is not only an airman, but a rare British daredevil rodeo master who makes the stupid krauts eat his dust. Unfortunately, while Michiel and Jack manage to outwit and ultimately outrun the Germans despite the fact they were in motorcycles and jeeps, the former’s beloved horse Caesar sustains a fractured leg in the process and must be euthanized but since the boyish protagonist cannot get the courage to do it himself, the RAF puts the beast to sleep. Since Jack is no longer safe in the woods, Michiel decides to bring him home where he introduces him to his uncle Ben, who agrees to help the Brit get to Zwolle using phony German documents. Shortly after Jack, Ben, and Erica leave to go to Zwolle, Michiel realizes that his uncle mentioned something about his resistance fighter friend Dirk that he could not have possibly known because he never told him about it and thus suspects his beloved Oom might be doing the incomprehensible by collaborating with the Germans. Upon inspecting Uncle Ben’s suitcase, Michiel finds Nazi documents and realizes that his uncle is not a member of the resistance but a double-agent that works for the Germans.  Indeed, because of his actions, Uncle Ben is responsible for the deaths of various neighbors and family friends. Luckily, Michiel manages to chase down the threesome just before they arrive at the bridge and pulls a gun on Uncle Ben and exposes his treachery to Jack and his sister.

 Ultimately, while Michiel guards Uncle Ben, Erica walks across the bridge while Jack absurdly climbs along underneath it as if he has superhuman strength. Demonstrating that he is a stern anticommunist who thinks that Europe will soon be taken over by the Soviets, Uncle Ben complains to Michiel, “The Russians will be here soon. Then we’ll see who’s occupier and who’s liberator.” Uncle Ben also reveals to Michiel that, due to his German connections, he managed to secure his father’s release but the mayor wanted to be a martyr and refused to allow another citizen to take his place as was the stipulation for sparing his life, thus now the protagonist can rest easy knowing that his father was not the pussy that he always thought he was. Of course, Michiel was quite wrong about Ben as well. When Ben manages to escape and Michiel soon catches him, he realizes he must kill his uncle or otherwise his sister and Jack will be shot dead. After Ben pleads, “Think about it, Michiel. I’m a bastard but I’m also your uncle. I’ve always protected you” and a unit of German soldiers appear nearby, Michiel acts if he has changed his mind about killing his uncle, but just as Ben begins to walk away from him, the protagonist symbolically shoots him in the back. Indeed, although not having the gall to euthanize his suffering horse, Michiel manages to kill his favorite uncle in cold blood. After the war has ended, everyone in the Netherlands celebrates with a huge parade and various parties, but Michiel has a malignant case of melancholia and cannot find it in himself to celebrate, so he merely sits at his dead dad’s desk as if trying in vain to take his place, though his friend Theo eventually manages to get him to crack a smile.

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.

-Ty E


Tony Brubaker said...

I was really enjoying reading the reveiw but then all the faggotry in the last 7 lines ruined it for me, why couldn`t it have been a completely normal and rampagingly heterosexual geezer buggering a 12 year-old Heather O`Rourke look-a--like instead! then it would`ve been a perfect ending to the reveiw. BLOODY DISGUSTING WOOFTERS.

Tony Brubaker said...

Finally, Judith O`Dea has returned in "Night of the Living Dead: Genesis", that bird should`ve been the star of every film Quentin Tarantino has ever made, Judith IS cult cinema and shes still not a bad looking old slag even at 70 ! ! !.

Tony Brubaker said...

Neil Patrick Harris is a woofter, the bloody disgusting faggot.