By Nick Coston
Friday April 22, 2011

World War II has always been a deep well for dramatic fiction. Never before or since has history given us such a black and white tale of heroism and villainy; even the disparate color schemes of the Allies and Axis lent their convenient aesthetic to the screen. In the past decade, however, World War II To say that the era’s well has been tapped dry would be pessimistic and unverifiable, but it’s hard not to wonder when such derivative cheese is thrown upon the screen again and again.

“Winter in Wartime” is one such retread. Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) is a young Dutch boy who hates the Nazis inhabiting his village. He resents his father (Raymond Thiry), the mayor, for his cowardice, and worships his Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen) for his rebellious bravery. He tries to pass off his chores to his older sister Erica (Melody Klaver). And he plays cards with his friend Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower), a crashed RAF pilot evading German capture.

The film is an adaptation of a 1972 novel; both the age and condensation of the source material show. 39 years of Nazi pastiche and banality have piled up on the screen since the book’s publication. Guessing what comes next and always being right is not a fun exercise for the audience.

Nazis are mean. They have the gall to interrupt a handsome family man dancing with his wife in the living room and then shoot him, for goodness’ sake. They made his children cry — in slow motion, no less!

It must be noted that Winter in Wartime is a relative triumph in the Dutch film industry, which scarcely exists. The Netherlands produced some successful documentaries in the late 1950s, but in the past 30 years, homegrown Dutch filmmaking declined to the point that the federal government established tax shelters to encourage private investment in local productions. Even that model faded by the turn of the 21st century. That a competent period drama could be wrought from a wholly Dutch production is an accomplishment in and of itself.

There is a chase scene involving a horse-drawn carriage and three Nazi motorcycles with sidecars, each driver properly attired for the period. That’s a tall order for any crew, and director Martin Koolhoven and his gang see it through without a hitch. And it’s not as though he blew the whole budget on one set piece. At no point are we reminded that we are watching the effort of a 21st century crew from a nation that struggles to scrape together quality films. “Winter in Wartime” is professional and clean in its aesthetic. A few too many servings of slow motion, but let’s not be picky.

For an audience seeking nothing more than a World War II yarn that paints by numbers, “Winter in Wartime” delivers. The arbitrary curse words that Jack injects into his monologues hint at the demographics of the film’s most receptive audience. It’s best suited for 14-year-olds like Michiel—the precocious lot yearning for inclusion and assimilation to the adult world, ready to smoke cigarettes and smooch like cool guys, unprepared for the full assortment of life’s horrors.

Winter in Wartime (103 minutes, at area theaters) is Rated Rated R for some language.

Nick Coston is a DC native and 2010 graduate of the University of Michigan, where he covered film for four years at The Michigan Daily. He has been active in film production and coverage for nine years. He currently works in the office of U.S. Representative John Dingell of Michigan’s 15th congressional district. His favorite film is Michael Mann’s Heat (1995).

John Hanshaw

John Hanshaw

founded WFI in the Fall of 2007. He has worked in film and television for over ten years at such institutions as NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), PBS and most recently National Geographic. He has degrees from Amherst College, Cambridge University, and GW Law.