Dutch author Jan Terlouw spent five years of his life with his country occupied by the Nazis and his father, a vicar, was arrested several times and threatened with execution. He turned this into an autobiographical novel, Winter in Wartime, in 1972. Director Martin Koolhoven wrote the script with Paul Jan Nelissen and Mieke de Jong and turned it into his seventh feature film.
14-year-old Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier, who had only recently joined a Rotterdam youth theater group and been acting for only two months) starts the film as a relatively carefree young teenager using the war as a plaything. But things get serious when he discovers a downed British flyer, Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower), who is hiding from the Nazis. Michiel involves his sister Erica (Melody Klaver), a nurse, which leads to further complications.
Especially touching is the relationship between Michiel and his father, Johan van Beusekom (Raymond Thiry). Johan is the Mayor of their small village and Michiel shows him little respect. But Johan is going through more than young Michiel imagines. There is a poignant scene in which Johan shows Michiel how to shave. Considering what happens in the rest of the movie, this scene becomes particularly moving. Yorick van Wageningen gives a believable performance as Michiel’s Uncle Ben, a father-figure upon whom Michiel comes to rely and look up to since he has developed little respect for his father — whom he feels is toadying up to the Nazis.
Shot on location in Lithuania because eastern Lithuania, at the Russian border, the snow and the landscape look like Holland, Terlouw said, “It was true to life and very emotional.” This is a suspenseful coming of age story and view of how war can affect ordinary lives. In Dutch/English/German.
Except for good performances by Gérard Depardieu, Karin Viard and Fabrice Luchini, director François Ozon completely strikes out in this clumsy adaptation of a 1970 eponymous play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy. The joke is that “potiche” is a vase or jar with a removable cover. It has come to be used in a derogative way for a beautiful woman of little substance living in the shadow of a stronger husband. This is meant to describe Suzanne Pujol (‘60s-era luminous star Catherine Deneuve), a “trophy wife” to husband Robert (Luchini). Although the umbrella factory he runs was her inheritance, she’s never done much but be beautiful and accommodating. Suddenly she shows a backbone, and takes over the company business from Robert. Her competence irks her disagreeable husband to no end. A B story involves a relationship with the town’s mayor, played by Depardieu, which reveals the quality of Suzanne’s virtue.
While Ozon — who has directed movies in the past that I have liked, like Swimming Pool (2003) and 8 Women (2002) — tries to play it for laughs, he’s undone by his star who appears to have had so much plastic surgery that she can no longer show any expression in her face, although her expressionlessness might be the whole point of the movie. Intent to the contrary notwithstanding, her sangfroid makes the movie as emotionless as her character.
The result is something that is so unrealistic it is clearly intended as farce, but the main actor just isn’t up to the task. Luchini is wonderful as the gratuitously offensive husband, and Depardieu is equally effective as Suzanne’s former lover. Good as they are, the real standout is Viard, who gives a smashing performance as Robert’s mistress.
The problem is that the movie is not funny, interesting, entertaining or even slightly humorous. What it is, is disappointing and grating.
Equally jarring is the speed with which the subtitles are flashed, which requires a crash course in speed reading to keep up. But I was thankful for small favors. Had the subtitles been shown with normal reading time, the film would have been longer. In French.