The Dutch film "For a Lost Soldier" (Sunset 5) resembles many other European pictures in its coming-of-age theme set against World War II. Writer-director Roeland Kerbosch and his adapter Don Bloch have brought choreographer Rudi van Dantzig's autobiographical novel to the screen with the warmth, intimacy and sensitivity we have come to expect in subtitled movies.
In its first half hour, Kerbosch's film is altogether typical, but then it ventures into exceedingly risky territory with daring and taste. (As a period piece, the film boasts a few anachronisms; "Sha-boom," for example, is a song of the '50s, not '40s.) Finally, though, Kerbosch undercuts the chances he takes with a frustrating vagueness and evasiveness.
In the so-called Winter of Hunger in 1944, 12-year-old Jeroen Boman (Maarten Smit) is sent by his parents along with a group of other Amsterdam children to foster homes in Friesland because there is still an abundance of food along the North Sea. Jeroen is lucky in the family he has been assigned. The father Hait (Feark Smink), a fisherman, a strong, loving man, and his wife had requested a girl, as a companion for their daughter, the youngest of their three children, but the couple are as forthright in making him welcome as they are honest in expressing their initial disappointment. This hearty family is as earthy as it is religious; devoutness is a matter of spirituality rather than moralizing or passing judgment.
Time passes uneventfully with Jeroen hanging out with Jan (Derk-Jan Kroon), a friend from Amsterdam several years older than he and very conscious of the opposite sex. However, Jeroen, now that he's experiencing the onset of puberty, finds himself very aware of Jan when they go to the beach. Not long after this, the boys encounter the first troops of liberation, Americans and Canadians. Among them is a handsome, sturdy Canadian named Walt (Andrew Kelley), who looks to be about 20. The attraction between them is immediate.
Kerbosch is adroit in depicting both Jeroen and Walt as two lonely individuals far from home. Because both are such regular guys and because Walt's fellow soldiers realize that they'll soon be moving on, it is credible that the two could spend so much time together without raising eyebrows. Friendship, however, gives way to stronger emotions.
While Kerbosch proceeds with as much discretion as courage in dealing with such potentially explosive material, the truth is that "For a Lost Soldier," as well-acted as it is, lacks crucial clarity. This may have something to do with the language barrier, although about half the film is in English (and the Dutch is subtitled). We have to wonder how Walt manages to be so completely at ease with his homosexuality, especially in the era in which this film is set. He's presented as a sunny, easygoing, spontaneous young man without a care in the world--and that's the trouble: He may be kind and gentle with Jeroen but seems not to consider how his lovemaking could affect a boy who could not be more than 13, a boy he soon will be bidding farewell.
Since Kerbosch's role is after all to illuminate rather than to judge, he really needs to have revealed not only considerably more about Walt but also--and especially--the totality of his impact upon Jeroen, whom we meet in middle age in the film's prologue. A choreographer, Jeroen (Jeroen Krabbe) finds himself blocked in creating a ballet dealing with themes from his youth. He comes to realize that he must confront what happened between him and Walt so long ago, which he seems to have suppressed and which clearly has left him traumatized.
Has the adult Jeroen been able to have successful relationships with others, male or female, or both? Kerbosch leaves us to assume that Jeroen is gay just as he leaves us to assume that he and Walt fully engaged in sex in the first place. "For a Lost Soldier" (Times-rated mature for adult themes, language) delves into issues far too serious and controversial for such questions to go unanswered.
'For a Lost Soldier'
Maarten Smit: Jeroen Boman
Andrew Kelley: Walt Cook
Jeroen Krabbe: Jeroen Boman as an adult
Feark Smink: Hait
A Strand release of a Sigma Film production in cooperation with Avro-TV Holland. Writer-director Roeland Kerbosch. Adapted by Don Bloch from a novel by Rudi van Dantzig. Producer Matthijs van Heijningen. Cinematographer Nils Post. Editor August Verschueren. Costumes Jany Temime. Music Joop Stokkermans. Art director Vincent de Pater. Sound Marcel de Hoogd. In English and Dutch, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
Times-rate Mature (for adult themes, language).