Secrets of War (Oorlogsgeheimen) is a 2014 film set in the summer of 1943 in Southern Limburg, a Dutch village. The area is occupied by the Germans to mixed reactions from its residents.
In the opening scene, two adolescent boys, Turr (Maas Bronkhuyzen) and Lambert (Joes Brauers) are seen enjoying their own cave-war games. The two best friends derive great pleasure from exploring caves and using their sling shots to propel rocks fired at the cattle trains that rumble through the countryside.
They both befriend Maartje (Pippa Allen) who arrives to stay with her farm relatives. From where no one knows. Although Lambert first talks to Maartje at school and there appears to be a common connection between them, Maartje eventually chooses to become more friendly with Turr.
At first Turr is distracted from his new female friend because one evening he catches his mother, father and older brother whispering secretively, and then mysteriously sneaking out late at night. Turr’s curiosity overwhelms him and he decides to trail his family on one of their furtive evening missions. After seeing what they are up to, he quickly realizes that his father, mother and brother are working with the Dutch Resistance. However, he is angered that his father decides not to tell him about their clandestine endeavors.
Obvious from this point forward there is something dramatically different regarding the relationship with Lambert as Turr realizes that the Nazi occupation, they have been living under, is now opposed by his own family.
Meanwhile, things are getting tougher for all the Dutch citizens as Lambert’s father, who is the Mayor of Limburg, is seen openly collaborating with the Germans. The German Commandant is rounding up Jews and their benefactors. And both the Mayor and the Commandant are tasked with quickly destroying the Dutch resistance at any cost.
Now what was once a daily outing of fun and sport between the two boys, Lambert is now being shunned by Turr. All the while, Lambert is being pressured by his father to join the Hitler Youth whose members are being indoctrinated to hunt for Jews and Partisans.
The juxtaposition of these starkly different paths for Turr and Lambert brings to the light the incredible difficult struggle that the average Dutch citizens must have had to choose: decency, and compassion for others or the Hitler way?
As Turr and Maartje relationship matures and turns from friendship to a courtship, Maartje reveals a difficult secret she has long been hiding. Trusting only Turr she discloses that she is not really who he thinks she is but a Jew from Amsterdam living under an assumed name. She knows that her parents are likely dead as they were taken away in the Jewish raids in Amsterdam. Then Maartje shows Turr her secret box which includes all of her personal possessions. They include photos of her excelling at sport, her parents’ prewar photos and her yellow “Juden” cloth star she was forced to wear in Amsterdam.
Lambert, on the other hand is being rejected by Turr, also witnesses how Maartje now looks at Turr and sees how their romance is building. Lambert’s jealousy mounts as he gets so fed up that he secretively discovers Turr and Maatje’s top-secret hideout along with the secret box and a small pet pig she has been hiding.
Lambert to curry favor with his father, conveys the whereabouts of the pet pig and shares that Maartje is a Jew.
From here the plot becomes more interesting and complex, all of it told from Tuur’s youthful perspective, which is very different from most movies in this genre. The first two thirds of the film feel likes it is going to deal with the complexities of choosing sides in a time of war, and how a black and white, ‘good vs evil’ philosophy in war is played through the prospective of children. The final act however scraps all that in favor of something much different. Sorry no spoilers here…
Director Denis Botts has adopted Jacques Vriens’s children’s novel Secrets of War for the screen. Karen van Holst Pellekaan wrote the screen play.
The film excels with its character portrayals of Tuur and Lambert; both being pushed into polarizing political affiliations by their fathers.
Bronkhuyzen carries the weight of the film brilliantly telling half the entire storyline in understated facial twitches and eye movements as we gradually watch his goodness diminish.
The climax of the final act works well after a suspenseful gradual build up but – while not wishing to spoil – the ending is a little weaker than it could be.
Jeffery Giesener, former CEO of SourceMob, has both public and private company experience. Today, retired and enjoying life in San Diego, he’s a freelance writer who has a passion for both cinema and baking his Mom’s (OBM) European recipes.