Soldier of Orange (1977)
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During his childhood in The Hague, Verhoeven had been witness to the activities of the occupying Nazis, which made a great impression on him. He remembers vividly his father hiding in a cellar and seeing dead bodies in the street, for example. As one biographer has noted, Soldier Of Orange "was a theme he could taste, feel, and breathe," a film shot with of honesty and verisimilitude, if less of the director's characteristic excess, though still with his distinctive vision and style. There are some familiar faces in the large cast: Jeroen Krabbé (as Guus Le Jeune) who took the lead in De Vierde Man (aka: The Fourth Man) is a key protagonist, and the svelte and good-looking Rutger Hauer, as the central character Erik Lanshof. The blond Hauer, who had until now been utilised by Verhoeven as a working class hero in such films as Turks Fruit (aka: Turkish Delight, 1973), and afterwards in Spetters (1980) is here transformed into a prosperous war hero, modelled on Erik Roelfzema, the author of the original dramatic memoir. Much of the fraught virility usually associated with Hauer is suppressed here, although it briefly reappears during his dalliance with Susan (Susan Penhaligon).
That Erik/Hauer is the focus of the film is suggested by his first appearance, although the episodic nature of much that follows in the narrative sometimes sidelines his significance. He is inserted, Zelig-like, into opening newsreel footage, the 'single aide' at the post war return of Queen Wilhemina. Like so many of his Dutch contemporaries, Erik is comfortably well off, a man to whom (if only at first) the conflict seems just another grand adventure. Previously the middle class had been presented in Verhoeven's work as exploiters (as in Keetje Keeple, 1975) or as sexually ludicrous in Wat Zen Ik? (aka: Business Is Business, 1971). Such boisterous social irony is, in the present film, conspicuous by its absence, as if the contemplation of war forced a different responsibility upon the filmmakers. Erik and his class of 1939-40 may sometimes be made effete, but never risible. Made at a time when Netherlanders were starting to face the realities of their wartime existence, unpleasant facts about home collaboration and acquiescence to occupation, Verhoeven's film confronts these issues with a tale of student friends torn apart by war, having to face moral dilemmas and choices. Soldier Of Orange, complete with its stirring title music, is a title with a singular subject, implying a monolithic view of an individual at war. But the film actually focuses on a plurality of men, an ensemble of half a dozen privileged students, each of them responding to the conflict in a different way. Although Erik is the nominal hero, his actions are often ineffectual and have dubious results. His counterweight is Alex (Derek de Lint). Having served in the Dutch army, he sees his mother interned and decides to join the Waffen SS. The two meet only twice after: at a parade, where the Dutch civilians give flowers to the Germans, and at a dance where the two tango face to face, with obvious connotations of identity and mutual resemblance. Of the other friends, Robby (Eddie Habbema) betrays his colleagues to save his girlfriend, while another stays out of it entirely - one of only two surviving out of the initial group picture.
Soldier Of Orange begins, aptly enough, with an initiation ceremony. Cowed, humiliated, then celebratory, Erik and the others have to undergo rituals to be accepted into the student body. Of course the mocking cruelties they undergo echo the Nazi repression of later on: the fear, the anal torture and the firing squads. More immediately the process confirms for us the circle of friends, frozen in a group photograph, set to be tested further as what begins as a student's club ends as a man's struggle. This opening initiation is the coming conflict in microcosm. Soon it will be the flames of war, rather than the soup comically poured over Erik's head, that offer a definitive rite of passage. Verhoeven manages some exciting set pieces during the course of the film: the bombing attack on the barracks, the beach shootings scene, the initiation and the aborted seaplane rescue being standouts. There are also some quieter, poetic moments, such as the overhead and point-of-view shots of Jean's white shirted execution in the dunes. (A striking scene which makes one regret Verhoeven's recent descent into the special effects laden un-subtlety of the Hollow Man.) The episodic nature of the narrative is both a blessing and a curse: while the number of characters and subplots makes it possible to examine a society from a range of viewpoints, the lack of a single, strong momentum leads to occasional slacking of tension.
The abiding impression gained at the end of this long (167 minutes) film is that nothing in this war has been black and white, and Verhoeven has faithfully suggested the historical revisionism of the time. Out of these moral uncertainties, he has crafted an exciting and engrossing work, one that he now considers his best Dutch project. Although the ambiguities helped make Soldier of Orange's initial critical reception lukewarm, it was exceptionally well received by the Dutch public. Interestingly, for overseas release the film was renamed Survival Run - a change that suggests a work much less of a complex national portrait than it actually is.
Soldaat van Oranje, like its American counterpart twenty years later, is a film about war that takes its subject by the horns and doesn't let go at any moment. As we are introduced to the group of Dutch students whose eyes we see World War II through, we see a reflection of one rarely acknowledged truth: that numerous ordinary, everyday people, ignorant of what was really going on in Nazi Germany, couldn't have cared less about what was going on. It was only when the reality of the war was brought to them, as the Germans invaded Holland, that these students sat up and took notice of what the war was doing to ordinary people. Indeed, early on in the film, Hauer's character even says that a spot of war would be "exciting".
Another reality that this film prefers to hit the viewer square in the face with is that while the war changed a lot of aspects of everyday life for everyone, there were some things that stayed the same regardless. In the scene where Hauer's character is attempting to board a boat bound for England, the German army's refusal to let the sailors on board prompts a quick "back to the pub" response from the working-class sailors. Business as usual in that respect.
Considering that this is a Paul Verhoeven film, it is actually quite surprising how little violence there is to be found here. Granted, it is not a family film, and some of the torture scenes will make your blood boil as well as make some sick people like myself chuckle, but unlike the film that Verhoeven made with numerous references to this one twenty years later, there is surprisingly little blood and gore. Indeed, unlike the sarcastic satire of Starship Troopers, Soldaat Van Oranje tells its story in a restrained, almost documentary-like manner that is surprising as well as creative.
All in all, I'd give Soldaat Van Oranje a qualified ten out of ten. It is not going to appeal to everyone, and some just won't get it at all, but it delivers a powerful story about the loss of innocence and freedom that should be required viewing in all schools, not just Dutch ones. Oh, and I cannot remember who said it, but they are right about one thing: the footage of the Queen returning to Dutch soil made me want to shout "Oranje boven!", and I am not even Dutch.
This story is told from the point of view of a number of well to do Leiden University students. For clarification, very few people before the war had the finances to go to university.
Highlighting some now internationally famous Dutch actors - Rutger Hauer, Derek de Lint, Jeroen Krabbé as well as locally known actors like Belinda Meuldijk, Rijk de Gooyer and this is also a showcase of acting talent during the seventies and early eighties. British seventies actors Susan Penhaligon and Edward Fox (A Bridge Too Far) also have interesting performances.
Based on the memoirs of Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema (Erik Lanshof in the movie), this is a reasonably realistic and truthful recounting of war and resistance during world war two. Roelfzema, a genuine war hero, first joined the student resistance, then the SOE, then joined the RAF and finally became an adjudant (aide) to queen Wilhelmina. He is still spritely and alive, living in Hawaii with his English wife.
It is also pretty unique as it features what must be cinema's first and only drive-by-shooting from a bicycle. And one with wooden tires at that. And a great yarn too. It has heroism and cowardice, loyalty and betrayal, relativism, principles and pragmatism. Recommended.
Although the film contains a great deal of suspense and a fair amount of violence, it's not a garish adventure movie, it's a human chronicle. And it involves us. That's all the more remarkable because this isn't a profoundly serious little film with a somber message, but a big, colorful, expensive war movie-the most costly production in Dutch film history. Expensive war movies tend to linger forever on their great special effects; they have a tendency to pose their heroes in front of collapsing buildings and expect us to be moved. SOLDIER OF ORANGE is big, but it's low-key. It's about how characters of ordinary human dimension might behave against the bewildering scale of a war.
The movie's based on the memoirs of Erik Hazelhoff, a Dutch war hero who escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe, landed in England, was attached to the then hopelessly disorganized and ineffectual Dutch government in exile, and spent the war on a series of espionage missions before finally joining up with the Royal Air Force and flying many missions. What's interesting is that the Hazelhoff character is shown doing all of these things, and yet he doesn't emerge as a superhero; he's just a capable, brave man doing the next right thing. The film mostly follows Hazelhoff, but it begins in the pre-war years with six friends-college students, playing tennis, hanging out together, doubting war will really come-and it follows all six through the war. Four of them die, one in a particularly horrible way in a concentration camp.
By following all six lives over a period of years, the film suggests the historical sweep of the war for many millions of lives; SOLDIER OF ORANGE isn't just episodes strung together (although it is episodic), but a suggestion of how long the war must have seemed, and how easily it must have seemed endless. The narrative structure is interesting. Instead of giving us a tightly knit plot, with characters assigned to particular roles and functions, it gives us a great many specific details. There are the scenes involving Queen Wilhelmina, for example. In exile in England, the dowager queen walks stiffly in her garden, gravely absorbs the advice of her ministers, receives delegations, and conveys a dignity upon the situation through her very bearing (for, of course, she had no real authority then at all). A subplot involving an underground Dutch radio operator is clothed in similar detail; we know enough of his character to know why he turns informer and his decision is not simply cowardly, but is almost understandable. Unforgivable, but understandable. The movie is filled with perceptions like that.
The best Verhoeven movie readily available in the USA, what a contrast to the trash he turned out in the 1990s. Hauer is in top form as Erik. Krabbe is excellent as the fraternity president Guus, so in charge of the games at the beginning, so naive as to the reality of their situation at the end. Their friendship was at the core of this film. Their relationship with authority throughout was complex and compelling.
There are two subtitled versions, the original is far the best if you can find it. The other subtitled version available is a version of the dubbing script for the US version for those parochial people who have to have it in English because they can't be bothered to increase their cultural horizon and listen to a movie in its original language. Stay as far away from the dubbed in English version as you can.
Apart from the films about the Ten Boom family and their heroic exploits in saving Dutch Jews from the death camps (e.g. The Hiding Place), there are few cinematic efforts portraying Dutch resistance against the Nazis. Soldier of Orange was therefore an eye-opener. One would have thought that the Dutch, because of their proximity to Germany, with their cognate languages would have succumbed to Anschluss as did Austria. The stoic courage of Queen Wilhelmina in insisting on staying with her people even after it was clear that Dutch forces had collapsed in the face of the German Blitzkrieg was touching. Only reluctantly did she accept the advice of her ministers that she would be more effective as a symbol of resistance abroad persuaded her to accept the British offer to fly her out of her beloved country.
And yet, despite the exciting episodes of Dutch resistance and espionage against the German occupiers, what proved more interesting to me was the depiction of student life at the universities. I was both fascinated and appalled at the extent and brutality of the hazing undergone by the lower classmen which included the character of Rutger Hauer. In my country, the Philippines, such hazing have led to several deaths and although condemned in general, they go on.
It's true. It includes humor and absurdity along with fighting the good fight. It doesn't flinch from the ugly. Great music. Fine acting. Well crafted in creating the historic atmosphere. Dense with character. Entertaining pace.
The first time I saw it I was a little bothered by the way it seemed to just "walk along" -then he did this then they did that then this happened- like a diary. But I later came to like that style, maybe because war, like life, is "just one damned thing after another".
I'd love to read the memoir it's based on, but the last time I looked it hadn't been translated into English.
I wonder if Verhoeven ever looks back and wishes he could have/would have made more like this instead of Showgirls, Robocop, and such.
All in all, I think that most people would have to agree that Paul Verhoeven's movies in his native Holland were just better (he's made some good ones here, but they have all been popcorn movies). This is certainly one to see. Also starring Jeroen Krabbe and Derek de Lint.
For the record, I've heard that for many years after WWII, it was considered rude to speak German in the Netherlands. I don't doubt it.
The fact that this movie is so good is that it clearly shows how people (and in this movie: students) make choices in the war and how these choices made affect relationships between these people. There are a few key-figures in this movie, Erik being the main character and the rest of his student friends (e.g. Alex, Guus). During his study of law in Leiden the Germans invade the Netherlands. After a five days of fighting the Germans occupy the Netherlands completely. After a few months some students (including Erik) start a resistance against the Germans. After a few amateuristic attempts most of them get arrested by the Germans and the rest of the band keeps quiet. Not all of the band have joined the resistance, some favour the Germans like Alex. Alex starts to fight for Germany and therefore turns away from Erik and the rest. In the movie this can be seen as Erik sees him again in the Hague during a fare well parade of the dutch SS volunteers which are going to fight in Russia. The parade turns to the right of the screen and Erik goes the other way (Erik joined the resistance). The band of students which was so close at the start of the war falls apart during the war.
Another thing that makes the movie that good is the fact that it shows that the collaboration in the Netherlands was massive during the Second World War and most of the resistance was amateurism. When all London activities are cancelled to start a network of resistance in the Netherlands, Erik joins the RAF. Not because he is convinced that Germany is wrong but because he has the opportunity to do so, he likes the adventure (in the movie he says; little bit of war, always fun - een beetje oorlog, altijd leuk). For the same reason Erik could have joined the luftwaffe if the opportunity to do so was there.
Summary, the movie gives a nice picture of the dutch people during the Second World War, some people joined the resistance, much people collaborated and alas the most of the dutch people kept quiet and hoped to live to see the end of the war (in the most possitive case they performed passive resistance against the Germans). In the movie there was a nice scene at the end. Erik finds a band brother who tells him he is so proude that he gratuated during the war, he took clandestine exams.
In some way, upon reflection, I can see how this early effort by Verhoeven, and his two regular pre-U.S. stars Hauer and Jeroen Krabbe, benefits from its incongruous lack of involvement. It is the story of people who don't understand the import of what is truly happening until it literally hits home and find that loyalty grows to be more and more of an illusion. Thus, it seems to aesthetically make a degree of sense for the story to unfold at arm's length, as if we can never quite know who will live, die or turn on us. But still, wouldn't this film be so much better if it did not keep its distance? Isn't it the point for us to feel betrayed and angered by the unraveling of events? In any case, I could still be wrong, as the cliché love triangles, token romantic interests and ignored moral dichotomies of seemingly incidental things certain characters do abound.
Perhaps Verhoeven was not yet ready to make the Dutch Resistance film he knew he should make. His filmography can often look like the work of someone who is cynically desensitized to violence and other sorts of cruelty, but it can also often look like the work of someone's defense mechanism against how it has affected him. It wasn't until 2006 when Black Book was released when we saw his true and personal vision of a story set during this time. We have authentic emotional reactions to everything that happens in that tremendous film, which as it turns out is surely Verhoeven's best work, as if his previous films had all been his way of wrestling with the feelings with which he had to come to terms in order to make it, just as the Dutch in this film seem to remain aloof, perhaps in quiet, ambiguous defense of what could happen to them at any moment.
Please go see it (on DVD, out in sort notice) and prove me right or wrong. PS. one of the best music scores of all time from the late Rogier van Otterloo.
The original Dutch version is arguably one of the best war movies ever made. It's very Dutch and the story is completely situated in the Netherlands.
The hatred people felt for the German nazi's and the Dutch NSB'ers is beautifully displayed by the actors. It all seems very "natural" (and I don't necessarily mean the inevitable Dutch nude scenes -by the way, Renee Soutendijk is a true bitch in this movie).
Best phrase: "Schoonmoeder.. Scheveningen, Scheveningen... lul!" Translated: "Mother-in-law... Scheveningen, Scheveningen (Dutch sea-side town)... dick!" The reason the guy had the other guy saying this was to make sure he wasn't German, as Germans can't pronounce the rasping "sch" sound.