Tuesday, December 29, 2015
'Secrets of War' DVD: Preadolescent WWII-Era Netherlands 'North and South'
The talented young cast, numerous subtle (and not so subtle messages), perfect pacing, beautiful cinematography, etc. make the 2104 Dutch drama "Secrets of War" outstanding even among the other exceptional international movies in the uber-awesome Film of the Month Club from Film Movement. The even better news is that Movement makes the DVD available to non-members.
The current accolades for "Secrets" include a trio of best film awards at festivals. Anticipated future accolades include referring to it when young star Maas Bronkhuyzen, who plays central character Tuur, breaks out ala Leonardo DiCaprio and River Phoenix. He has at least as much charm and talent as those two in their early days. (Sadly, we will never know if Phoenix would have suffered the same ultimate artistic fate as Leo.)
"Secrets" opens with a beautiful segment in which roughly 12 year-old Tuur and best bud Lambert are playing Army in the idyllic woods outside their rural Nazi-occupied village in Holland during their summer of '43. This scene is reminiscent of similar openings in "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," "The Empire of the Sun," and other films set in the WWII era in which a young hero initially is blissfully unaware of the war that surrounds him. However, a very brief moment of relatively intensity (and foreshadowing) in this one sets it apart from the other films.
Additional foreshadowing quickly follows in the form of older boys who are bullying the lads forcing the latter to flee to an extensive series of caves that they know like the back of their hand.
Other symbolism includes the boys delighting in playing with a train set, a real-life underground railroad, and Tuur reading a comic book version of a Charles Dickens novel.
The larger conflict develops in the form of the father of Lambert becoming increasingly involved with (and seemingly committed to) the Nazi cause while the father of Tuur tries to keep a low profile while supporting a competing effort. Manifestations of the collaboration include the older brother of Lambert being a leader of the local Hitler Youth group and Lambert experiencing increased pressure to enlist.
The lesser but related conflict comes in the form of new girl in town Maartje causing a rift between the boys. The initial resentment regarding this interloper morphs into more serious ill will that inadvertently brings the full reality of the war to the literal doorsteps of the boys. In other words, they ain't just playing Army any more. This element of "Secrets" brings to mind the pivotal moment of "Empire" in which sheltered young Jim (played by a presumably non-ranting Christian Bale) playing a game that has dire consequences.
The viewing of "Secrets" coincidentally coinciding with marathon (rather than binge) third viewings of the final season of the scifi television series "Stargate: Atlantis" shows the international and timeless themes of both, The lore of "Atlantis" includes predatory aliens called the Wraith literally consuming on the life force of the always fearful human inhabitants of the rural alien communities that are feeding grounds. Our earth-based heroes pursue the joint objectives of eliminating the purely evil predators and protecting the innocent victims. The ever-present threat of covert human collaborators increases the challenge of meeting those objectives.
Both "Secrets" and "Atlantis" setting much of the action in similar-appearing forests and regularly sheltering potential victims in caves provides an additional parallel.
Movement does its usual good job in pairing Club selection "Secrets" with the included short film of the month. The much-lighter American film "So You've Grown Attached" is a hilarious "Welcome to the Dollhouse" art-house variation on the equally hilarious Cartoon Network series "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends."
Tween Izzy becoming interested in the adorable literal boy next door and a general need for her to grow up combine to prompt pressure for her long-time imaginary friend Ex to retire from that role. This Calvin and Hobbes style duo resisting that separation complicates things in both our realm and that of the mind of Izzy. ( A David Berkowitz joke while watching "Attached" falling flat prompts recommending that you not try that at home.)
Anyone with questions or comments regarding either "Secrets" or "Attached" is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.