Film Review: 'Winter in Wartime' tells boyhood tale too simply

Young Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) comes of age during the last days of the German occupation in the popular Dutch film 'Winter in Wartime.'

Sony Pictures Classics

Young Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) comes of age during the last days of the German occupation in the popular Dutch film "Winter in Wartime."

An enormous popular and critical hit in its home country of the Netherlands (where it outgrossed "Twilight" and "The Dark Knight," according to Variety), "Winter in Wartime" offers a boy's-eye-view of the Nazi occupation of Holland in January 1945, near the end of World War II.

Part coming-of-age story, part wartime resistance thriller, the movie stars Martijn Lakemeier as 14-year-old Michiel, who hasn't lost his boyish enthusiasm for games and bike rides, despite the menacing Nazi presence in his picturesque town and the snowy countryside that surrounds it. An early scene reveals that we will witness this presence and the events it inspires through Michiel's eyes, when the boy scratches a peephole in the frost on his windowpane to watch an airplane crash in flames beyond the not-too-distant treeline.

During the last winter of World War II, Nazi occupied Holland lies under a blanket of snow. Living in a village near the town of ...

Rating: R for some language

Length: 103 minutes

Released: March 18, 2011 NY/LA

Cast: Martijn Lakemeier, Yorick van Wageningen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Raymond Thiry, Melody Klaver

Director: Martin Koolhoven

Writer: Mieke de Jong, Martin Koolhoven

More info and showtimes »

Ignoring the warnings of his cautious father (Raymond Thiry) and beloved uncle (Yorick van Wageningen), Michiel becomes, in essence, a part of the resistance when he discovers a wounded English soldier (Jamie Campbell Bower) hiding in the forest. Adopting the soldier as a sort of surrogate brother or even pet, Michiel brings the man food and medical assistance in the form of his older sister (Melody Klaver), a pretty young nurse. Michiel's resentment of the soldier's interest in his sister is a nice illustration of the way petty human emotions motivate actions, even in dramatic, historical contexts.

Based on a popular 1972 Dutch novel for young people by Jan Terlouw, "Winter in Wartime" seems like the type of project that might have interested Steven Spielberg, who, of course, would have told the story much more elaborately. (The relationship between the boy and the soldier has parallels to "E.T.") Unfortunately, director Martin Koolhoven doesn't transform his relative lack of resources or his insistently whitened-out color palette into virtues. The movie is visually unremarkable, and worse than that when Koolhoven tries too hard. During a dramatic execution scene, for example, the film shifts to slow-motion and the soundtrack becomes awash in angelic, choral harmonies; the effect is kitschy and bathetic. The film has a few nice, tender moments, as when Michiel's father teaches the boy to shave, but it works better as a straight suspense story than as a character study or a self-consciously meaningful piece about the impact of war.

In any event, the movie's R rating is extreme and unfair, especially considering that the current nonstop violence fest "Fast Five" was awarded a PG-13 (to cite just one of many similarly absurd ratings- board decisions, which typically allow major studio films to reach as wide an audience as possible, while restricting access to independent or foreign films). This is a shame, because "Winter in Wartime" might play best to young viewers who can identify closely with its teen protagonist, and who haven't already seen dozens of Holocaust-themed movies.

Mostly in Dutch with English subtitles, "Winter in Wartime" is at Malco's Ridgeway Four.

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