supposed to make mistakes when you’re a kid. That’s all part of the growing up
process. Unfortunately, there is a much smaller margin for error when an
oppressive foreign power occupies your country during a time of war. That is
the environment two Dutch twelve year-olds face in Dennis Bots’ Secrets of War (trailer here), which screens
during the 2015 New York International Children’s Film Festival.
Tuur Ramakers and Lambert Nijskens are inseparable friends, but their families
have already aligned on different sides of the war. Lambert’s politically
ambitious father has become the town’s leading National Socialist collaborator.
As a result, Tuur’s parents have largely cut their social ties with the
Nijskenses. They might also be taking an even a more active role in the
resistance, but they have shielded Tuur from any compromising knowledge.
Naturally, he picks up on this and resents it. Nevertheless, young Ramakers and
Nijskens largely carry on as they always did, thanks in part to the latter’s
reluctance to join the Hitler Youth. However, everything changes when Maartje
Holtermans arrives at school.
Holtermans is visiting her aunt and uncle from the north, as kids would do
during the war. They live in a rather provincial town after all, but they are
far from immune from air raids. Nevertheless, there is obviously more to
Holtermans’ story than she lets on (but the audience should tweak to it right
away). Of course, Ramakers and Nijskens are slower on the up-take, because they
are kids. Regrettably, this will have dire consequences when three becomes a
crowd. As feelings develop between the more sophisticated Holtermans and the
bad boy Ramakers, the resentful Nijskens will do something impulsively rash.
most festival goers will have seen a fair number of thematically similar films—Martin
Koolhaven’s occupation-set coming-of-age story Winter in Wartime being a particularly relevant comparative.
However, Secrets is surprisingly
smart and subtle showing how typically overheated adolescent drama could take
on wider tragic implications. Things get dark and desperate, but in grimly
logical rather than contrived ways.
trio of young primaries are also quite polished and work remarkably well
in-tandem. Maas Bronkhuyzen oozes mischievous charisma as Ramakers and Pippa
Allen’s Holtermans could pass for a pre-teen Natalie Portman. Poor Joes Brauers
is stuck with most of the film’s ignoble work, but he still manages to convey
all of Nijskens’ humanizing insecurities and jealousies. Although far from a
driving element, the white-haired local vicar is also refreshingly portrayed as
a (much harassed) man of principle.
van Holst Pellekaan’s adaptation of Jacques Vriens’ YA novel forthrightly addresses
the realities of the Holocaust, but it stops short of showing viewers the
actual horrors. Arguably, it could serve as an effective introduction to the National
Socialist genocide without overwhelming young viewers. It definitely reflects a
twelve year-old’s perspective, but that makes it quite touching for adult
viewers. Recommended with a good deal of enthusiasm, Secrets of War screens tomorrow (3/7) at the IFC Center and Sunday
(3/15) at the SVA Theatre, as part of this year’s NYICFF.
Labels: Dutch cinema, NYICFF '15, WWII Cinema