Updated for a skeptical age, this new World War II movie comes impeccably groomed in period-attentive tans and grays; is written in non-heroic dialogue to suggest ambiguities in the good-evil dichotomies of war stories past; and is sufficiently hopped-up with thrills to warrant the interest of a U.S. distributor. Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Jan Terlouw, Martin Koolhoven’s Winter in Wartime is an efficient, absorbing example of the form framed in a boy’s coming-of-age story set in a snowbound rural Holland in 1945. When 13-year-old Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) goes to the aid of a grounded British air force pilot (Jamie Campbell Bower), he quickly finds himself mired in a hornet’s nest of murky motives and multiple identities. Given the times and Michiel’s adolescent need for heroes and villains, neutrality is not an option. Yet the boy finds it increasingly difficult to tell which of his beloved immediate family and the village elders is a resister, an informer, or an appeaser of the occupying Nazis. That’s the interesting part, but Koolhoven’s philosophical probing of human limitation among the good guys—and of what that complexity might mean to a credulous lad hungry for role models—is all but overwhelmed by his commercial instincts and undeniable skill at juggling realism with genre.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 16, 2011