WINTER IN WARTIME is a film set winter of 1944 in a village in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands (as Holland endured the Nazis’ icy grip) and shot in Lithuania, is an adaptation of a semiautobiographical 1972 novel by the Dutch author Jan Terlouw, who lived under German occupation for five years. The period was known in the Netherlands as “the Hunger Winter.” The film was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008.
The narrative framed in a boy’s coming-of-age story in a snowbound rural Holland, contemplates the fog of war and the mysteries of adult life through the eyes of Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier), the 13-year-old son of the town’s stoic mayor, Johan van Beusekom (Raymond Thiry).
It’s January 1945, a time when the Nazis’ defeat was beginning to seem inevitable, and the temptation to play it safe in occupied territories must have been strong.
Michiel, a fresh-faced 14-year-old, yearns to join the resistance. Michiel views his father’s uneasy cooperation with the Nazi authorities with disdain, even though it is essential to maintaining the fragile peace in the area. In his mind, his father, the mayor is seemingly only interested in maintaining the status quo between the town and the German Army.
The boy also looks up to his dashing Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen), a hearty resistance fighter who arrives for a visit carrying a suitcase filled with ration cards, canned sardines and a radio. Ben, who appears to have better connections with the local German authorities than Johan, isn’t exactly what he seems. Meanwhile, an allied plane is hit in the air and crashes, but before it hits the ground, a young British airman named Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower) is able to escape by parachute. Michiel (who wants to contribute as his uncle Ben does to the resistance) finds the downed and the wounded RAF pilot in the nearby woods, and now gets his chance.
But 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. 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.
Michiel’s father is arrested when the body of a German soldier, killed by Jack on the night of the plane crash, is found in the forest. Jack wants to turn himself in to save Michiel’s father, but Ben tells Michiel he can save his father. Ben’s efforts fail, and Michiel’s father is shot by the Germans.
Michiel tries to take Jack to the town of Zwolle, across a river, but the Germans foil their attempt, and the two narrowly escape after a chase through the forest. Michiel finally turns to his Uncle Ben for help in getting Jack to Zwolle. Ben agrees, and Ben, Jack and Erica set off for the bridge to Zwolle. As they leave, Ben tells Michiel that Dirk should never have gotten Michiel involved with Jack. After they go, Michiel realizes that he had never mentioned Dirk’s role to Ben. Quickly checking Ben’s suitcase, he finds papers showing that Ben is working for the Germans.