Ten years after his not-so-bad remake of The Thing prequel, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. returns in a whole new genre with The Battle of the Scheldt, the first Dutch feature film to be produced by Netflix and the second largest Dutch production of The Thing. history with 14 million euros. Released in theaters in the Netherlands in December 2020, the film has now joined the platform’s catalog since October 15 and it’s a shame to miss out on this delightful surprise despite its flaws.
Since this is a war film about one of the major military operations of World War II with a narrative divided between three characters, The Battle of the Scheldt looks like a Dutch Dunkirk. However, even though they have some things in common, the two films are quickly and happily distinguished from each other.
Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is not Christopher Nolan and certainly doesn’t have such a huge budget, but his ambitions are very different from the temporal and narrative experiments of director Inception and Interstellar in his Hollywood blockbusters.
Unlike the gigantic theater of operations recreated on the north coast, which later takes the form of a heroic rescue in a ballet of great destruction between sky, land and sea, here, the feature film’s strength lies first and foremost in its composure and the way it looks back on this momentous episode in end of war.
The Pyrrhic victory, already tracked in A Bridge Too Far, but remains forgotten or little known (the film’s original title was The Forgotten Battle) meanwhile ensured the supply of Allied troops in their final march to Berlin.
Instead of offering visions of large-scale war, Dutch filmmakers stay on human heights. The Battle of the Scheldt tells the story of a carefree British glider pilot, a German soldier who joins the Wehrmacht to escape poverty, and a young Dutch town hall worker who lives with his brother and father who is a doctor under German occupation.
The three characters that the film follows faithfully (too much, sometimes) and who make it possible to explain the pain of war in a mosaic tale that unfolds slowly, but steadily, like British soldiers plunging into New Zealand soil.
While it’s clear that Paula van der Oest’s fate and scenario follows a classic path and is predictable enough despite the twists and turns, the energy and tragedy still retains its strength thanks to the density of narrative and Simple and Tragedy. neat staging, varying between intimate moments, action scenes and moments of pure suspense.
Even if some spectacular sequences and some incredible wide shots highlight the film, the camera is always as close to the characters as possible and constantly serves the narrative. Even more so when words are no longer enough and silence and expression finally reveal feelings: the chaos of a Dutch family, the disappointment of a crippled German lieutenant, a father’s concern for his son. England or the sadism of a Nazi officer.
Alternating viewpoints and language, The Battle of the Scheldt strives to provide an overview of the conflict and never succumbs to sluggish Manichaeism or easy melodrama, preferring to rely on its historical realism and effectiveness. The film explores various aspects of the conflict, the Dutch occupation, military logistics, acts of resistance or even the defeat of Germany and depicts the feeling of war tiredness that everyone finally sees approaching. , without materializing.
A deadly and fatalistic fresco then gradually takes shape, from a residence in the dark dungeons of the resistance to the muddy edge of the estuary. Gloomy photography reinforces the savings of landscapes and decorations, favoring pale skins of faces and only explosions, the blue skies of autumn mornings or the reds of the Nazi flag clashing among the grays where film remains a prisoner, as if it were dead. The soundtrack, discreetly, accentuates emotion, but also knows how to take a break to make it look heavier or the clock is deafening.
And if characters are used primarily to fulfill their function, casting accuracy gives weight to the characterization summary of some of them. The embodiment of a nation’s rebellious spirit, Susan Radder shines through her interpretations. With his straight, stern face, shattered when his absurd actions catch his eye, Gijs Blom represents the decay of the Third Reich, while Jamie Flatters aptly fulfills his role as a naive soldier under Tom Felton’s reassuring orders.
And apart from a role that is more than just a secondary role, Jan Bijvoet is quite heartbreaking with this doctor dadi who alone embodies the contradictions and sacrifices war imposes on those who live it, of their own free will or against their will.
However, awkward cuts prevent viewers from fully immersing themselves and some characters don’t develop enough to become attached. With the final approach, the story ends up taking on a less of a scale by mounting its two armies like pawns on a chessboard, but the situation connects more quickly, it’s easier, and the film stumbles in its tracks. , ended up only being interested in his devastating final attack.
The soldiers are nothing more than shadows advancing towards certain death and as soon as the bullets whistle and the bullets explode, horror strikes with all its violence with impressive images, which regain their colors to unleash chaos. The fights, immersive and intense, are also filmed up close, at the heart of the action and at the bottom of the hierarchy, with a realism that’s clearly reminiscent of Il Faut Sauver’s Le Private Ryan et Frères-d’Armes, but also Fury, under some aspects.