Winter in Wartime Director: Martin Koolhoven Starring: Martjin Lakemeier, Raymond Thiry, Yorick van Wageningen Running time: One hour, 43 minutes
"Now is not the time to anger the Germans," says Johan, the mayor of a Dutch town to his son Michiel, as the country awaits liberation in January, 1945 in the movie Winter in Wartime.
Appeasement got a bad rap in the days leading up to the Second World War, courtesy of Neville Chamberlain, but Johan (Raymond Thiry) remains a practitioner as he tries to spare his citizens from Nazi wrath for just a while longer.
Next door neighbour rounded up by the Gestapo? Johan's out there cracking jokes, offering dinner and drinks to the commandant, lightening the mood until the neighbour is released in an act of bonhommie.
The effectiveness of Johan's diplomacy is lost on wide-eyed Michiel (Martjin Lakemeier), who detests his father (Yorick van Wageningen) as a traitor and adores his scruffy, masculine Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen), who is rather transparently a member of the Resistance.
These twin poles in Michiel's life collide when he and a friend come upon the debris from a crashed British bomber, attracting suspicion when they are discovered rooting through the wreckage. Things become even more complex when Michiel discovers the pilot, Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower) wounded and hidden in a makeshift cellar covered by leaves and branches.
Director Martin Koolhoven is not a cutting-edge storyteller (there have been quite a few small, personal WWII movies that trod similar ground) and the movie's big last-act surprise is not the shock it should be to people paying attention. But he does set Winter in Wartime squarely in Michiel's world, giving us a boy's-eye-view of a world turned upside-down while trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy. Jack is "his" soldier, whom he jealously guards, even from the ministrations of his besotted nurse sister Erica (Melody Klaver).
Even the certainty of good and evil is tested in his world, when his life is saved by a German soldier (one of a handful of Germans in the film who don't carry the trademark aura of murderous intent).
The relationship between Michiel and the non-Dutch-speaking Jack is well presented, as they forge a bond that will probably last past V-E Day. But it's the arc of his relationship with his peacemaker father that is the soul of Winter in Wartime. There is bravery in Johan's smiling struggle to keep a massacre at bay, and this discovery comes late in the movie.
The whole thing comes to a head with cinematic urgency. Winter in Wartime is certainly not boring, what with pretty much everyone in the film on the verge of being uncovered and executed (and several actually suffering that fate).
All in all, Winter in Wartime is an eminently watchable movie, with some complex elements injected into the one war that, in our cultural mythology, is supposed to embody good and evil, black and white, pure and simple.
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