Tuesday, January 24, 2017

1986 Winner, The Assault

The Assault

Director:  Fons Rademakers

Distributed by:  Cannon Films

Released:  February 1986

Country:  The Netherlands

Blame is an important concept to the human animal.  Contrary to the musical musings of Mr. Howard Jones, someone is to blame most of the time.  When we can’t find our car keys, the first thought isn’t usually, “Why am I such a bonehead?  Can’t I put them in the same place every time?”  Much more likely, we’ll accuse, “Who stole my car keys?”  Conversely, sometimes we blame ourselves unfairly for things beyond our control, like saying your team lost because you wore the wrong style of Underoos on Game Day, or blaming yourself for your mama’s back issues because you stepped on a crack on a sidewalk somewhere.  And hell, maybe somebody DID steal the car keys.

The Assault, a Dutch film from 1986, is a story about who to blame when a young boy’s family is murdered.  It’s 1945 Netherlands, and the war is winding down.  Most of Europe is free from Nazi occupation, but ten-year-old Anton’s part of the world is suffering what would come to be known as "the Hunger Winter," abject poverty in the occupied Netherlands.  One night, after Anton, his parents, and his brother Peter share a bowl of soup for dinner, they hear some gunfire outside.  To their dismay, they see a known Nazi collaborator named Fake (fah-keh, I think) Ploeg lying dead in the street, shot while riding his bicycle. Normally, you would think this wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but when we see the neighbors moving dead Fake in front of Anton’s house, you realize:  when the Nazis find him, they are going to blame someone.  Anton is too young to do anything, but Peter tries to convince everyone it would be better to move the Nazi carcass to some other unlucky sap’s yard.  But before he can do it, the Gestapo arrives.  Next thing you know Anton is taken away to jail, and if the Nazis take a ten-year-old to jail, you can guess the rest of the family isn’t going to fare much better.

Underoos are fun to wear! Something super-new in underwear!
So, who is to blame?  The neighbors, whose moving the body led to Anton's family’s being accused?  Peter, who should have acted more quickly, or with more compassion?  Perhaps Anton's father, who hemmed and hawed, unable to make a decision?  Maybe whoever shot good old Fake Ploeg?  Radical thought:  The Nazis?

The film follows Anton throughout his life in post-war Europe, dealing with his troubles and trying to figure out the meaning of it all.  There are a few twists along the way, like his encounter years later with an old boyhood chum, who happens to be Fake’s son.  There is also a strange correlation between a woman he meets in prison the night of his family's arrest and the woman he would later marry--implausibly, they look remarkably alike.  I found this confusing, since the two women were played by the same actress.  I could find no significance to this detail.  The story also flashes forward a few times from 1945, and ends in the early 80’s when the people who had to deal with Nazis are now marching in the streets to ban the bomb.  The Netherlands have changed quite a bit from the Hungry Winter.

To this point, this is the first film I couldn’t find online or on DVD, and could only get my hands on a videotape from the library.  I had to blow the dust off my VCR and remove my copy of Jeff Stein’s 1979 rockumentary The Kids Are Alright, which had been sitting in the machine a few years after my attempt to indoctrinate my middle son on The Who a while back.  This also was the first Best Foreign Film that I could only find dubbed in English, rather than having English subtitles.  While I found the film to be enjoyable, it was distracting at times to hear the voice actors over stating their lines.  But I can't blame the actors for it, or the library system for not having the film on DVDIf I have to blame someone, why not the Nazis?

The Title:  De aanslag, in Dutch

The Culture:  When I think Amsterdam in World War II, I think Anne Frank.  This film gave me a somewhat more general view of what it must have been like just waiting for the war to end but still having to deal with the fact it hadn't yet.

Agenda Danger:  I found some of the Ban the Bomb stuff at the end a bit silly, but I don’t think a message was intended.

Best Picture that year:   Platoon.  Oliver Stone is to blame for that one.

Rating:  A bit long, and good luck finding a copy, but I’d watch it again. 

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