Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Winter in Wartime

(Oorlogswinter, Dutch, 2008)

Here we have a compelling story, and less than compelling moviemaking. The story is strong enough that I still enjoyed it quite a bit, but every once in a while I winced at the cliches.

There’s a Dutch boy in 1944, during the German occupation. A British plane is shot down and one of the crew parachutes into the snowy woods. The boy finds him, and shelters him in a bunker. Brings him food, gets to like him, tries to plan his escape. (I was reminded a little of E.T., a kid having a secret pet, but this boy was almost old enough to shave.) His nurse sister helps out, and begins to fall in love with the flier.

The boy is contemptuous of his father, the mayor, who tries to placate the fucking Nazis any way he can short of collaboration, and idolizes his uncle, who has ties to the resistance. It’s all very tense as the fucking Nazis search for the pilot, and demand that the townspeople find him. A German soldier was killed by the pilot after he landed. In situations like that, the fucking Nazis always made reprisals. Usually it was picking a certain number of people, sometimes at random, putting them up against a wall, and shooting them. The boy’s father is picked for execution … I can’t say more, but there is a big surprise at the end.

Also a rather unlikely escape. This story should have been told more crisply. The boy has difficult moral choices to make, but the director dwells on them too long. At the end there is someone who richly deserves to be killed, and I don’t think a Dutch boy in the occupied Netherlands would have hesitated even one second to blow his fucking Nazi brains out. But he does here, merely to stretch the tension. And we also get one of the worst cliches in movies: the slow-motion, soundless (except for funereal music that telegraphs the outcome) sprint that drags out the tension needlessly, and in fact defuses it. I mean, just think about that. A slow-motion sprint. It’s a contradiction in terms, and turns what should have been an exciting moment into a directorial stunt. I almost always yawn during a slomo run. Slomo can be useful in storytelling, but only rarely. There should be a committee of the Directors Guild that scrutinizes all attempts at slomo and ruthlessly eliminates 95% of them. Really.