Monday, April 25, 2011

Hidde's Review of Oorlogswinter

Oorlogswinter by Hidde Sikkes

Back in the days, when I was an even littler man than I am now, I read everything I could get my hands on; at one point I started reading Oorlogswinter by Jan Terlouw.

The book was a real page turner, and because I had to go to bed way earlier than I actually wanted and the light had to be turned off, I read under the blankets with a flashlight, just like the main character in the book, Michiel, who uses a cat-eye, hand operated flashlight.

The story unfolds in The Netherlands at the end of the second world war; the main character is Michiel van Beusekom, a quiet boy of about 14 or 15 years old. His family consists of his father, mother and older sister, Erica. Due to circumstances, Michiel ends up in the resistance and has to take care of a British pilot who crashes not far from the village.

Last week, the little boy who read this book under his covers, now just a little man, saw the movie adaptation of Oorlogswinter. Remembering all the adventures described in the book, I was looking forward to this movie.

The movie starts when an allied plane is shot from the sky; Michiel the main character, sees this happening from his bedroom window. The next day he and his friend, a neighbouring boy, go on their bikes to the plane to check it out, but Michiel gets caught by the Germans. Through this incident we meet Michiel's father, who talks and negotiates with the Germans in order to avoid any problems in the village; he is able to get his son out of the hands of the Germans.

A great yet a tad naïve beginning of the movie, but at least the tone is set: there is action and adventure just as I remember from the book!

I cheered too quickly. From that moment on the movie just did not do much. True, there are great shots, a lot of bicycling, great music, good acting (especially considering the role of Michiel is the debut of Martijn Lakemeier), but there is no real soul, you do not get caught by the characters. It is as if you are looking at a set of very impressive pictures from a great distance. At one point you see the father of Michiel get shot. Michiel tries to run to his dad, but he is too late and is stopped. Is it sad? Yes. Do you feel sorry for him? Yes. Do you feel the urge to cry or any real emotion? No. In fact it was at this moment that I noticed that the snow was not real snow but some kind of foam. (I blame the movie for making me sound so cold-hearted.)

You can see in the film that the director and screenwriters had a lot of decisions to make about what to cut and what to use, as is often the case with a script based on a book. The film adaptation only focuses on the main story line: Michiel ends up in the resistance and has to take care of the British pilot, Jack. This leaves many questions for the viewer, especially the viewer who did not read the book prior to going to the movie.

To name a few:

The illustrious uncle Ben, the uncle who arrives one evening and, as it seems, is great friends with Michiel. We do not learn what/who uncle Ben really is, something in the resistance? All we really know in the end –spoiler alert– is that he is a traitor, who has caused the deaths of many people.

The horse and even at one point the carriage. Where do they come from? They make great shots, but the viewer is never told where they come from. As the little man who read the book, I know: they are from the Baroness who lives not far from Michiel and is a friend of the family.

Why are there so many people walking on the dyke, and often strangers staying in the house? The last occupied winter in The Netherlands was also called the hunger winter as many people died of hunger in the big cities and moved to the country side, in desperate hope to find some food.

All in all, as one could already guess, I am a bit ambiguous concerning this movie. Yes, the story could have been told better, with more warmth, more depth for some characters. One could argue that the fiery crash of the aeroplane is the only moment when some warmth comes to the screen. On the other hand, the movie takes place at the end of the second world war, in an occupied country, and this was not a time of warmth, trust, or adventure; it was a time of survival, during which, in this case, a young boy was forced to become a man, and this is portrayed perfectly in the movie.

To wrap it up, it is a good movie, but the little man of the past would have saved the battery of his flashlight on the book Oorlogswinter if it was told/written the same way as the movie.

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