Van Heijningen Jr.’s excellent take on the war genre delivers agonizing punches while simultaneously re-examining the coming of age theme. Set against the unceasing chaos and horror of battle, van Heijningen Jr. masterfully weaves together three separate stories, and so entwines the lives of three characters.
Make no mistake. This is a raw, devastating film about war. At times the film is reminiscent of Kubrick, who used contrasting images to great psychological effect in “Paths of Glory” (1957). At others it jolts like the brutal and devastating opening scene in Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). Throughout, it recalls the intensely personal saga of Mendes’ 1917 (2019).
The film, based on actual events, takes place in and around Zeeland, Netherlands in 1944. With the Allies attempting to secure the crucial port city of Antwerp, the last remaining German forces attempt to cut off the Scheldt River, the only passage in for the Allies. The central battle is over a narrow causeway, highly strategic to both sides.
But along the way the personal dramatic stories unfold, largely influenced by the shifting momenta of both sides. Teuntje Visser (Radder) lives with her father and younger brother in German occupied Zeeland. Tjeunte’s father (Bijvoet) is a small town doctor who has been able to keep his family safe by caring for the enemy as well as for his regular patients. Her brother Dirk (Kalter), we soon learn, is a member of the resistance. The second story follows Marinus van Staveren (Blom), a volunteer Dutch German soldier who, following a battle injury, is reassigned as translator in the Zeeland commandant’s office. Meanwhile, William Sinclair (Flatters), a young, daring British glider pilot is attempting to prove that he is not hiding behind the influence of his distinguished officer father.
War is a battle between fear and bravado, but it’s never about which wins out. Rather, it is about what’s taken away. Youth is wasted in war, and too often young lives end in tragedy.
Like countless stories of young people during wartime, this is a film which makes you contemplate the lost lives of young men and women who are persuaded, for one reason or another, to become soldiers — whether for warlords or king and country. These are people who are faceless. Yet, when we do catch a glimpse of their faces, when we come to know their dreams and aspirations, we discover there is nothing romantic about war.