The wartime subject matter may seem familiar at first, but Holland's Oscar contender exerts a powerful grip. A hit on its home turf, it has been quietly building a reputation with festival awards and buzz, all of which augurs well for its belated stateside bow. And the added allure of Twilight and Harry Potter alumni Jamie Campbell Bower won't do its chances any harm.
Martin Koolhoven adopts a neo-realist approach to this Second World War story about a 14-year-old boy who becomes involved with the Resistance after he helps a wounded British airman.
During the last winter of the War, a blanket of snow covered Nazi-occupied Holland. Food was scarce with many people heading east in a desperate attempt to find sustenance for their families.
Against this background the teenager has to grow up quickly, learning the difference between the adventure fantasies of boyhood and the stark realities of conflict. Based on Jan Terlouw's novel, Winter in Wartime boasts a couple of worthwhile performances. Newcomer Martijn Lakemeier (best actor at the Nederlands Film Festival and the Rembrandt Awards) plays Michiel, the youthful rebel with a newfound cause despite his father's words of caution, and Jamie Campbell Bower (of Twilight: New Moon and Harry Potter fame) as the British pilot, Jack, whom Michiel discovers in the woods near the city of Zwolle.
As mayor of the village, his father must do all he can to keep the fragile peace intact, and he is not prepared to take any risks. Meanwhile, Michiel's Uncle Ben—a Resistance fighter and strong critic of Michiel's father—warns against getting involved in "grown up" business.
Michiel is forced to learn quickly that nothing in life is what it seems, and recognizing the cowardly from the brave, the traitors from those who are prepared to sacrifice themselves, is difficult, especially in times of war.
Koolhoven manages the difficult balance of entertaining as well as offering a high emotional impact, with considerable agility. Pino Donaggio's soaring and powerful score intensifies all of the drama.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Martijn Lakemeier, Yorick van Wageningen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Raymond Thiry and Melody Klaver
Director: Martin Koolhoven
Screenwriter: Mieke de Jong, Martin Koolhoven, Paul Jan Nelissen
Producers: Els Vandevorst and San Fu Maltha
Genre: Drama; Dutch- and German-languages, subtitled
Rating: R for some language.
Running time: 103 min.
Release date: March 18 NY/LA