A couple of things went really wrong in the making and marketing of Winter In Wartime, a coming-of-age tale set in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. The first is a relatively minor beef, but one that sticks nonetheless: the U.S. title translation from the Dutch title Oorlogswinter, meaning "War winter." I'm not sure what Sony Classics was thinking rechristening the film Winter In Wartime, but, if you'll forgive a bit of inside baseball, it's been written several different ways in the story-planning phase at the OW offices - War In Wintertime was the most common mistake, but at one point, someone wrote it in the schedule as War In Maritime.
So the title's a problem. But here's the film's biggest obstacle: It's patently ridiculous. I'll get to that later. First, a summary: Co-writer-director Martin Koolhoven's story of Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier), a teenage boy who discovers a wounded British soldier hiding out in the woods outside his small town in the Netherlands and helps him hide as he recovers, begins auspiciously enough. The snow-blanketed area provides a conflicted viewpoint of WWII: The town has a mayor, Michiel's upstanding father, and its people are not starving or put out much by the SS officers who have taken over the town hall. Although Michiel observes some key figures around town being rounded up and detained, the true horrors of the war don't seem to have reached his borders yet.
Michiel is also accident-prone, and he feels tinges of bitterness when the Germans come to his aid on more than one occasion. When a British plane is shot down in their woods and an SS officer is found shot dead nearby, the hunt is on for the plane's missing, presumably British occupant, Jack (The Twilight Saga's Jamie Campbell Bower). Michiel finds him and discovers that he's a sweet, handsome lad in a lot of pain from a gunshot wound to the leg. Michiel enlists his nurse sister (Melody Klaver) to assist with his covert operation.
Unable to find either Jack or the townspeople helping him, the German leadership decides to make an example out of the mayor. The noose tightens around Michiel and his family, so the race is on to get Jack out safely and to save his father. This propels the film into its third act and out of any sense of reality. As Michiel and Jack are pursued, shot at and chased through the woods - their horse-drawn carriage somehow evading the Nazis' sidecars and rifles so efficiently that the pursued have time for slow walks and chats - the plot gets further muddied by clumsy twists and preposterously convenient turns.
By the time Koolhoven attempts to bring it all back to Michiel's loss of innocence, the mood has been irrevocably broken. Why this story needed to become a low-speed, low-stakes Raiders of the Lost Ark is beyond me.
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