F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 1, 2016)

1 09 2016

Winter in WartimeWith the start of a new festival season, it has once again become that time of the year when I catch up with the old works of directors newly feted on the circuit. For whatever reason, a lot of acclaimed movies simply slip through the cracks for me. Gatekeepers like Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York Film Festivals help highlight directors whose new work demands you examine their past films.

With his new film “Brimstone” landing a coveted premiere on the Lido for the Venice Film Festival, Dutch director Martin Koolhoven now has a new rarefied status attached to his name. With that, I decided to check out his last film, “Winter in Wartime.” Surely I was aware of the film when it entered the 2010 Oscar race as The Netherlands’ Foreign Language submission or when Sony Pictures Classics released it in 2011. While I missed it then, I’m glad to have caught up with it now.

“Winter in Wartime” is my choice for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” because Koolhoven finds fresh life in the World War II homefront tale and morality play. Certain aspects recall “The Book Thief,” but this coming-of-age story has plenty to offer all of its own. The film really excels in capturing how young Michiel, a Dutch teenager enduring the bitter end of Nazi occupation in 1945, grows frustrated with the adults who try to rationalize or find gray areas in their situations.

To Michiel, anything except active resistance to their German captors serves to help them. His father, the mayor of their town, tries to placate the Nazi troops by maintaining deference for the people’s safety. He sees it as strength; Michiel, as cowardice. Rather than simply express his disgust, Michiel channels it into action by helping the Dutch resistance evacuate a downed British RAF pilot, Jack. His quest for liberation sticks it to the Nazis, sure, but it also doubles as rebellion against the wavering morality of the older generations who have grown content with a stalemate. Though I will not venture a direct comparison to the defenders of Hitler, there’s something quite liberating watching “Winter in Wartime” as a young American in 2016 when many elder statesmen lack the courage to abhor demagoguery, bigotry and authoritarianism.

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