an almost flawless war film

an almost flawless war film
an almost flawless war film

In October 1944 the Nazi army falters under the blows of the allied forces. Following the Normandy landings, the Germans are forced into a bloody retreat from the western coasts of Europe, leaving behind them a trail of destruction and death the repercussion of which will have lasting and hard-to-forget effects. The Canadian soldiers, backed by US comrades and the British air force, liberate the southern region of the Netherlands, regaining control of Antwerp, a junction of incalculable importance for the fate of the war. But the allies need a safe haven to make the new conquest actually useful, which is why the Canadians are targeting the fortified island of Walcheren, where the German troops have built a nest protected by platoons of men called to the strenuous defense of the stronghold.

The battle of the Scheldt will see the Canadians emerge victorious, who will settle in the Netherlands in a very short time, freeing them from the Nazi yoke and dealing a deadly blow to the German army. A fundamental step which will mark the final result of what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg, but at the same time much less celebrated by history when compared to other war events that took place in the same years.

The Forgotten Battle pays homage to the authors of what proved to be a real feat, and it does so through a well-orchestrated title that looks at the big picture of military operations as well as the personal lives of some of the key figures who made the mission possible through their sacrifices and their fears. Netflix’s first Dutch film is a perfectly successful work, intense and frenetic but also delicate and melancholic, a vision that shines brightly between the Netflix releases in October.

The gray autumn of the Netherlands

War movies seemed to have gone off the radar after they became essential in the 1980s and 1990s; a gradual disappearance perhaps resulting from the redundancy of their American narratives and, despite some wonderful exceptions (think for example of The thin red line) the bulk of the films that saw soldiers as protagonists had really become implausible from the human point of view.

In the last few years, however, the trend seems to have changed, the fighters are back in the spotlight in one modern version and more attention to detail, leaving aside the rants dear to American culture, we filled our eyes with the magnificence of Dunkirk before and 1917 then (did you miss them? We have our backs, soldiers, with our review of Dunkirk and the review of 1917).

The Forgotten Battle follows the vein created by the modern era of military narration, returning a bloody and exhausting war on massacre in a film studied down to the smallest detail which proceeds playing on the rhythms of the advances and retreats of the troops between the trenches.

The story opens with the news that the Allies have crossed the Dutch border; the Dutch are elated and see the German troops withdraw from their cities. But hope hastened the process only in their minds since the Nazi soldiers they have no intention of leaving the conquered territories without shedding a sea of ​​blood. The plot proceeds through the junction of three stories that will end up joining the Walcheren dam, ranging between points of view in a natural way until there is no longer a need for any alternation between the reunited protagonists. Teuntje Visser (Susan Radder) is the daughter of a doctor close to the Nazi leaders who occupy the city, and together with her father she will try to save her seventeen-year-old brother from the firing squad due to a fatal mistake that the Germans have no intention of forgiving him.

Marinus Van Staveren (Gijs Blom) is a Dutchman who marches among the Germanic ranks as a volunteer, driven by his convinced anti-Semitism, but he will have to deal with the horrors of war and with the meaning that good and evil take on when he takes up a rifle. At the same time we follow the long journey of four British Royal Air Force soldiers led by Captain Tony Turner (played by a Tom Felton very far from Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy), crashed on the wrong side of the Scheldt and forced to find their fellow soldiers by passing through enemy lines.

An overactive direction that does not breathe

On the technical front The Forgotten Battle it’s an almost perfect film. Although the plot closely follows the disturbances and terror of real people, depicting them in intimate and refined scenes, the director takes control of the operations by carrying out a real action film.

The shots are never static, the camera is in constant motion thanks to long trolleys that cross the battlefields or in the hands of a dynamic and tireless operator, even during classic dialogue scenes. This type of directing returns a sense of agitation which describes well what the inhabitants of a region occupied by the Nazis felt: even when you are not shooting or are not in danger of life there is the feeling that at any moment you will have to run, while the explosions in the distance illuminate the night. The special effects are of excellent workmanship and manage to lower the viewer into the pain of the battlefield, contributing to that search for truth and immediacy which has become the mantra of new war films.

The dust that blinds the eyes, the strangled screams of a dying soldier, the explosions that blow up the eardrums and splash debris within a radius of meters, everything is recreated to perfection to reiterate that war is not a game, but a real act of violence and psychological terror. The leaden skies of an autumn Holland represent one of the few weaknesses of the work, which too often surrenders to a sad grayness in the diurnal phases, while the nights are rightly dark and terrible with their deep blacks.

Insurrection is the winning weapon

By cutting out of the picture the great tactical maneuvers that directed the war, the title aims to shed light on the true heroes of European liberation: members of the resistance. People without any military training, men and women led by the North Star of freedom who from below, often in the shadows, stole information and generated armed guerrillas within Nazi territories, wearing down an army forced to fight against civilians as against enemy soldiers.

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Focusing on the core formed by the protagonists, the film, however, gives in to one narrow vision and with well-defined boundaries that do not allow the right breath and the same spaces within the reach of the events represented. The acting is good and functional to the story, with a physicality that imposes itself on the dialogue, following a script that does not shine for unexpected twists or jokes, but which he knows how to accurately paint a memorable historical page and at the same time painful.

The audio sector is valuable, where the punctual and well directed soundtrack has the great merit of knowing how to leave the right space to silence. During a war, explosions and gunshots shudder, but they are not to be forgotten terrible absence of noise during which the hope that everything is over peeks timidly, while fear still tightens the heart and stops the breath.

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