Soldier of Orange (1978) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
comments in white:
If you love movies, you have to cry when you think of the movies that Paul Verhoeven has actually made in the past decade or so (Showgirls, Hollow Man), compared to what he should have made. Even his "good" films for Hollywood (Total Recall, Basic Instinct) are pale in comparison to what he might have done on an alternate path where he made films with a purpose beyond mere titillation.
I don't claim to be an expert on Dutch Cinema, but Soldier of Orange must have a strong case as the best Dutch film ever made. To me, the factors that separate it from similarly capable movies, like Turks Fruit and Antonia, are not just related to quality. There are also the matters of its scope, its patriotic theme, its Dutchness, and its inherent epic nature. Verhoeven did a brilliant job on this World War Two story about six fraternity friends whose lives are altered dramatically by the war. The movie is tense when it should be tense, moving when it should be moving, fun when it should be fun, sexy when it should be sexy. It is the ultimate summary of the unusual way that WW2 affected The Netherlands.
For Holland, it was a different kind of war from the picture you have in you mind. The Nazis didn't have any racial enmity for the Dutch, and the Dutch government had no desire to attempt a protracted war against an enemy hundreds of times stronger, in order to defend a country with no natural defenses. Holland is just one big flat lowland with good roads, practically tantamount to a sign that says "Panzers welcome".
The war started with Holland expecting to remain neutral. When Germany and England were at war, Hitler agreed to recognize the neutrality of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark and Switzerland. This was a trick, of course, to make the French ignore their northern defenses and prepare for an attack from the east. The Benelux countries knew there would be trouble, when Germany invaded Denmark in April, 1940, showing that all previous bets were off the table. One month later, the German tanks rolled over the borders of all the remaining neutral countries except Switzerland, and the Luftwaffe started bombing the Dutch air bases and bridges. The only real potential Dutch strength in wartime is a tricky seacoast and experienced seamen, but the German bombing leveled the port of Rotterdam in a day, and that was that. The Germans told the Dutch government to surrender or face saturation bombing of population centers, so they capitulated only six days after the Germans had invaded. That may sound one-sided, but in fact Hitler had underestimated the Dutch. He had expected The Netherlands to surrender the same day it was invaded, and Dutch resistance gave the French at least a little extra time to prepare.
As time progressed, the Germans confiscated all the Dutch radios, rationed Dutch food, and started to evict Jews from their businesses and positions in the government and universities. Holland had a policy and a general attitude of religious tolerance, with substantial numbers of Catholics, Moslems, and Jews living peacefully among its Protestant majority, so the Dutch found the religious persecutions to be completely offensive.
By the way, Rotterdam got bombed even more, by the British, to prevent the Germans from using it for war. Even the Americans bombed a Dutch city once (Nijmegen), mistaking it for a German one!
The story of the rest of the war had altogether too many chapters involving Dutchmen scheming and fighting against other Dutchmen. Many chose to collaborate with the Germans (some opportunistically, some to save their families), many chose to join the resistance, and many able-bodied men fled in order to fight with England or Canada. (It is not well remembered today outside of Holland, but it was fundamentally the Canadian Army which liberated The Netherlands.) The Dutch plotted and tried to survive amid a backdrop of Jewish persecutions and forced labor. As the Germans started to lose the war, their desperation made their treatment of the Dutch turn harsher. The round-ups of Jews intensified, and the Dutch were forced to work long hours with inadequate food supplies, in industries supporting the German war machine. By the end of the war, Holland's biggest problem was starvation, not bullets.
The film has some stirring chapters. One of the most memorable involves the rich fraternity boys taking the German-English war lightly, claiming they'd be neutral as always, but as time went on, the rich lads were seen driving through the Dutch streets on their fancy motorcycles, wearing their tuxedos, forced to notice the signs about them. There were German bombs stuck in the ground, and the even more ominous German parachutes trapped in the trees, but where were the German enemies? Somewhere, they knew. But where?
The two rich boys went to enlist, only to find the recruitment offices in disarray. By the time they got to see any action, the general came along to tell them the government had capitulated. From that point on, we follow our heroes as they work with the resistance, try to leave the country, try to transmit messages to England, then finally get to England, from which base they return for underground sorties against the Nazis. The real excitement of the film is that they are always only seconds from death, whether they are playing tennis or trying to sneak back to Dutch soil from England. Invariably they are just a racing heartbeat away from the Germans.
Since much of the war came down to Dutchman versus Dutchman, so it was here. One of the six frat boys had a German mother. When Germany had not yet invaded or conquered Holland, his mother was abused by the locals, and he vowed revenge against the neighbors who tormented her. He got it when the Germans won and he joined the SS. Another of the lads was a Jew, and his struggle was doomed. A third was married to a Jew, and he became a Nazi collaborator to protect her. His own friends had to face the sad task of killing him because he was a traitor to his country and his friends, even if he had only done it to save his wife. One of the boys was killed by the Germans as late as Christmas Day, 1944, while his best friend was flying a bombing raid for the RAF the same night.
Tremendous film, based on an autobiographical novel by a Dutch patriot. Not a false note in it, and a real heart tugger at the end of the war when the two remaining fraternity boys look at the picture of the six of them taken at a drunken frat party before the war, knowing, as we know, what happened to them all, and how different it might have turned out in peacetime. This scene was handled by the director with simplicity and economy, using a minimum of words and music, which made it all that much stronger.
one of the best films I have ever seen and, oddly, it was not even
nominated for an Oscar for best Foreign Language Film, although the
Golden Globes did give it that award. I recommend it with no
reservations. It is a good history lesson, and it is good
entertainment. Even if you don't like subtitled foreign films, you'll
like this one because Dutch is a lot like English, because the
structure of the film is so accessible, and because some of it is in
And it's just a damned good film.
comments in yellow:
Soldier of Orange
(1977), originally Soldaat van Oranje is one of three brilliant films
in Dutch by Paul Verhoeven. The other two are Turks Fruit which I
recently did, and The Fourth Man, which Scoopy covered recently.
Whether or not you think his recent work is garbage, the man knows a
thing or two about film making, and that includes the realization that
every film should have bare breasts. The nudity in this film is
totally gratuitous in that it doesn't advance the plot, but does add
to the enjoyment of the film, and gives a more complete view of the
characters. Paul, keep showing us those breasts, and look for a
project that you personally believe in strongly.
|As WW-II breaks out,
the group each deals with the War in his own way. Most become
resistance fighters, although one who has a Jewish girlfriend (Belinda
Meuldijk) is coerced into collaborating by a threat to send his
girlfriend to a Polish work camp, and one who is of mixed German/Dutch
descent joins the Reich. The rest of the film chronicles the events in
the lives of these characters as they cope, each in his own way, with
The film is historically interesting, is very well made and acted, and is entertaining as well. The DVD is a little grainy, but does have a full length commentary by Verhoeven, where he talks non-stop about filming details, which is exactly what I want in a commentary. Even those who hate subtitles may enjoy this. It is in Dutch, German and English.
Return to the Movie House home page