For a Lost Soldier
Whatever else this film is, itís wonderfully acted and beautifully crafted. Compared to some of the low budget movies weíve seen, this stands head and shoulders over them for quality of production. You feel as if you are actually in 1954 in Holland. The supporting performances are quite magnificent, and you leave the movie feeling youíve had quite an experience.
Itís quite what that experience is that bothers me. I donít think Iím giving too much away to say that this film is about a young Dutch boy who meets a Canadian soldier and has an intense relationship with him. Told in flashback, the boy, grown to be a choreographer, is trying to put together a ballet about his experiences of the liberation. He canít make the dance work because his memories are not right. He returns to the place where he was evacuated during the war and there comes to terms with what happened to him.
The relationship between the boy and the young soldier is beautifully developed and very natural. They find kindred spirits in each other, despite the lack of common language. However (and here is the difficult part to review), the relationship becomes physical, and I donít think there is any doubt that we are meant to think that itís abusive. Iíve read some reviews of this very brave movie that accuse it of encouraging supporting paedophilia. I disagree. I think weíre shown quite clearly that what the soldier does to the boy, despite being loving and caring and in many ways an extension of their deep friendship, is abusive. That the story is told as a flashback by a man still deeply emotionally scared by the events shows that the boy was too young to cope with what happened to him. He is clearly shown not enjoying the sexóheíd rather be cleaning the soldierís guns, sharing his chocolate and driving his jeep: all things he does with great, boyish relish. The soldier is the one who turns it physical; heís the one who uses the boy, despite knowing that heís leaving in a few days. Added to this, we are given the most wonderful male role model in this film: the man who takes the evacuated boy into his home and family. This man is deeply religious, but he has a purity of soul that really shows the soldierís actions in a very poor light. He literally has to pick the boy up when he has a minor breakdown at the soldierís desertion.
As I said at the beginning, whatever else this movie is, itís wonderful, brave and beautiful. I do see that it skates on very dangerous ground. I wonder how audiences would have taken it had the solider taken a ten year old Dutch girl and f***** her and left her like that. I donít think the movie would have gotten made.
Do watch this movie. It deserves to be seen and discussed.
If a sexual relationship, including onscreen anal penetration, between a 12 year-old and an adult in any way upsets or offends you, please donít go any further. This film originated in Holland, based on a book telling a real life story.† I doubt it couldíve been made anywhere less liberal. It doesnít trivialise or sensationalise paedophilia, and it will certainly make you think.
The film is non-judgemental, putting the burden firmly on the shoulders of the viewer.† Weíre left to draw our own conclusions.† Obviously we bring preconceived ideas, cultural prejudices against man-boy love as child abuse, perpetrators evil monsters.
If my 13 year-old was sexually involved with a 22 year-old man Iíd be unhappy and doubt his motives.† Yet this film, centred around such a relationship, is powerfully moving.† With grace and delicacy it asks that we open our minds to the possibility that intergenerational romance can be positive not exploitative.†
In 1944 Jeroen, is sent from Amsterdam to the countryside, where thereís food and safety.† Imagine the trauma of uprooting from everyone/everything you know, city to farm.† Step-brother Henk and friends make fun of him because heís different.† But step-father Heit is a good man who does his best to help.
Jeroenís friend Jan is a precocious rascal.† Like all adolescent boys they discuss sex- wanking, hard-ons, etc.†† Jeroen looks at Jan, experiencing the stirrings of desire.† Jan has body hair, sexually more mature.† Later in bed Jeroen looks at Henk, touches him.† So Jeroen was becoming sexually aware before meeting Walt, a Canadian soldier who arrives with the Allied army liberating Holland from Nazi occupation in 1945.† Itís love at first sight for man and boy.† A shared sense of dislocation in the special circumstances of wartime.
Jeroen and Walt have only one love scene, but itís intense.† Very underplayed, presumably consideration for the age of the pre-pubescent actor- it went through my mind to ask what parent could allow a child to appear to be anally penetrated by an adult.† Itís† a pivotal scene, and it affected my attitude toward Walt.† We look on as Jeroen screws up his face in pain, Walt holding him down.† A demonstration of lost innocence, a rite of passage, hard to watch, yet achingly tender and beautifully romantic.† I was warmed by earlier scenes of tender compassion, just holding and being held, filling an empty longing in a lonely boy.
Children are sexual beings, but our natural desire to keep them innocent means we deny that.† Jeroen was lonely, struggling with feelings he didnít understand.† Then Walt comes and shows him why he feels different from Jan and Henk who look at girlsí tits with desire while Jeroen is stirred by a male butt and penis.† Walt tells Jeroen about a friend he had when he was the same age, an artist; now in turn the soldier wants to teach the boy about love.† They meet a need in each other, and the age gap doesnít matter to them.† Jeroen wasnít a victim.† Heís a child, but it is love he feels, with desire and passion.† Heís scared, yes, but he knows what he wants.†
I donít think Iíve seen a more touching coming of age story.† It is beautifully filmed and acted. Jeroenís personal liberation is tied to that of his country, in the body of the film and near-contemporary sequences featuring grown-up Jeroen that top and tail the story.† So we see that the experience far from scarring or damaging him has made him a successful choreographer, fulfilling potential glimpsed in the boy
In counterpoint to the love story thereís a wonderfully realised father-son relationship between Jeroen and Heit, the farmer who took him in, whose funeral starts the trail of memory that causes Jeroen to recall lost love and rediscover passion and emotion locked inside.† Heit understands whatís going on with Jeroen and Walt; he loves the boy like a son.
Iím less convinced about Walt and his intentions.† Itís largely down to the sex scene.† Weíre shown how Waltís comrades use local girls, getting one pregnant without any thought to her reputation or future.† Is Walt similarly using a boy to satisfy his own lust?† The way he plies him with sweets is maybe a clue.† Heit picks up on it quickly; I think heís got Waltís measure but chooses not to hurt Jeroen, because the soldier can give him something Heit canít.† Yet the sex only came after friendship.† They were soulmates, two of a kind.†
This is a challenging film, one Iím sure I will watch again.† I still have problems with sex between a child and an adult (that itís same-sex doesnít matter) whether consensual or not.† I couldnít recommend the film if it didnít show similar ambivalence: it doesnít say itís okay for an adult to have sex with a child.† We are meant to contemplate a difficult moral issue and question our assumptions.† Who was ultimately more to Jeroen, Walt or Heit?† Maybe Walt didnít deliberately abuse Jeroen but without Heit it couldíve ended differently.† I want now to read the book.† Very highly recommended, but not easy viewing.
Buy For a Lost Soldier (REGION 1) (NTSC) at Amazon here