Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 24th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Children's Crusade

filmm_winter'Winter in Wartime' manages to create a conscientious coming-of-age drama

When most of us think of a coming-of-age drama set in Nazi- occupied Holland, our thoughts stray to the standard-bearer of the genre, “The Diary of Anne Frank.” We think of Anne growing up in her attic and the stoic resolve of the Dutch family who hid the Franks, that delicate dance of fear, poise, and patience, as the ultimate in wartime courage. Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven opts for a more active, thriller-type boy's own adventure in Winter In Wartime. It covers some of the same thematic territory as Anne Frank: youth impatient to grow up, and the struggle to establish a moral imperative within a labyrinth of complex political realities. It's not always as profound or effective in all it tries to say, but it's a conscientious effort to portray the true wages of warfare on the human psyche.

The film is adapted from the 1976 YA novel by Jan Terlouw, which may account for its occasionally breathless narrative. Things begin literally with a bang, a streak of flame across the night sky as an RAF fighter jet crashes into a forest behind a small Dutch town on a January night in 1945. The next day, 14-year-old Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) and his buddy from next door bike out to the crash site, and dodge the German guards posted around the wreckage to grab some souvenirs—a watch, a pair of goggles, a severed rubber tube.

Michiel gets caught by the German soldiers, only to be bailed out by his father, Johan (Raymond Thiry), the mayor. Michiel doesn't appreciate how desperately his conflicted father labors to stay on good terms with the hated Nazis; his primary goal is to see that "everyone gets through the war safe." To the boy, his father's cordiality to the Nazis seems like weakness, cowardice, and betrayal. Much more to Michiel's taste is his beloved Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen), who pops in for a visit with a trunk full of scarce ration books, Resistance literature, and a wireless set for tuning in Allied radio broadcasts.

While Uncle Ben warns him not to get involved in anything to do with the war, Michiel wants to strike a blow against the Germans. He gets his chance when through a series of plans gone awry, he discovers the downed RAF pilot, Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower), hiding out in a bunker under the snow. Deciding against telling his collaborationist father or endangering his uncle with the knowledge, Michiel assumes responsibility for protecting Jack and helping to smuggle him out to friends across the river—setting off a chain of events that creates a suspense narrative in counterpoint to the parallel story of Michiel trying to navigate the adult world and earn his place among the grown-ups.

Filmmaker Koolhoven makes cogent points about coming of age in wartime without beating us over the head with them. We're allowed to ponder that Jack is scarcely any older than Michiel, although fighting for his life in a foreign land. Coming home after his first encounter with Jack, Michiel can't help grinning over his delicious secret; when he's forced to let his sister, Erica (Melody Klaver), a nurse, in on the plan, the siblings bicker over Jack as if he were a favorite pet. As the stakes grow more deadly, Michiel is constantly challenged to rethink his assumptions in an increasingly complex situation, from the young Nazi soldier who risks his own life to save Michiel after an accident, to Michiel's unfolding relationship with his father.

The film is most effective in limning these often quietly resonant personal relationships. The suspense plot is ticked off with brisk efficiency as well, although it suffers in the long run from piling on a few too many damn things after another. At some point, the film loses its sense of urgency over all these close calls, twists, and diversions; they become so many obstacles in getting to the expected finale, which feels less profound and less consequential than it should. Still, the film makes anfilm_winter honest attempt to explore the psychology of wartime, and the acting is heartfelt, particularly coltish young Lakemeier and Thiry in their delicate father-son drama.


★★1/2 (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>

With Martijn Lakemeier, Raymond Thiry, Yorick van Wageningen, and Jamie Campbell Bower. Written by Mieke de Jong, Martin Koolhoven and Paul Jan Nelissen. From the novel by Jan Terlouw. Directed by Martin Koolhoven. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Rated R. 103 minutes. In German and Dutch with English subtitles.

Opens April 29 at The Nick.


Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Setting the Stage

The Colligan Theater opens at the Tannery Arts Center under circumstances no one could have imagined when it was first conceived. That it even survived a long and complicated road to completion is a testament to sheer willpower


Simplicity Preparing for Thanksgiving

When we study and apply astrology in our daily lives, we are anchoring new Aquarian thinking. Study, application and use of astrology, understanding its language, builds the new world, the new culture and civilization. Astrologers are able to plan right timing and right action. Next week is Thanksgiving (Thursday, Nov. 26). It’s good to understand the energies influencing us in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. When we know these things we are able to make Right Choices, have Right Action. We link heaven and Earth, our minds with the starry energies that influence us. Let us consider the following influences. The North Node (point in space where sun and moon meet, representing humanity’s present/future pathway) has just entered Virgo. Virgo is about food, purity, cleanliness, service, detail, order and organization. What can we learn from this? Because these energies are available to us we, too, can have intentions and a rhythm of order and organization, purity and cleanliness. Sunday, the sun enters Sag, joining Mercury (we have high ideals, many goals). Tuesday, Mercury/Saturn (structured disciplined thinking) squares Neptune (thoughts, ideas, goals dissolve away). Wednesday is 3 degree Sagittarius solar festival (full moon). Sag’s keynote is, “We see a goal, we achieve that goal, and then we see another.” We might have many plans and goals for Thanksgiving. However, on Thanksgiving those goals may be dashed. Saturn (structure) squares Neptune. All structures and plans dissolve and fall away. What is our response to this? We simplify all that we do. We plan on everything changing. We don’t fret. We adapt instead. Adaptation is the behavior of the Disciple. Sagittarius is the sign of the Disciple. 


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Film, Times & Events: Week of November 20

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


If you could be someone else for one month, who would it be?

President Obama, so I could change a lot of laws that pertain to people in jail for drug possession and other minor crimes. Raouf Ben Farhat, Petaluma, Self-Employed



Blanc De Blanc Sparkling Wine is best shared with the one you love


Rainy Refuge

Kelly’s offers killer sliders and pumpkin pie, plus dining pet peeves and wine of the week


If you won the lottery, what would be the first three things you did?

Build a restaurant, buy a house for my mom and donate a quarter of the money to the Boys and Girls Club. Jevon Martin, Santa Cruz, Chef