Soldier of Orange (Paul Verhoeven / Netherlands-Belgium, 1977):
(Soldaat van Oranje)

Paul Verhoeven’s trenchant verve starts with the Holocaust imagery of the introductory stretto, bald-headed men rounded up in a dark chamber for what turns out to be an elaborately vicious bit of frat-house hazing. (The model, the Losey of Accident and Mr. Klein, is splendidly accelerated.) The panoramic joke is that sometimes it takes an invasion to pull the privileged young away from tennis parties, so you have Holland between 1938 and the Liberation as seen by reformed hedonists, out of college and into the resistance. The two main granite jaws, Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbé, turn up in tuxedoes to volunteer at a bombed-out enlisting office before heading over to England for anti-Nazi missions. A Jewish pugilist (Huib Rooymans), a clandestine transmitter operator (Eddy Habbema), an underground leader (Lex van Delden), and a German-blooded colleague with split loyalties (Derek de Lint) contribute vantage points of their own. The structure combines the forward momentum of history with overlapping Hawksian triangles. When not shuffling gamely between Habbema and his lovely fiancée (Belinda Meuldijk) and between Krabbé and a tart RAF secretary (Susan Penhaligon), Hauer goes undercover into a swastika-festooned soiree and bumps into an old chum: "Oh, it’s war. And it’s a nice party." Eschewing patriotic posturing and respectability, Verhoeven fills the epic canvas with the bracing viscera from his early portraits of grotty relationships: People are forced into betrayal and slaughter, heroism is a matter of mud and outhouses, the true goal is to "scrape through." ("Gentility belongs to the past," Queen Wilhelmina declares.) The virile camerawork draws on The Longest Day and The Battle of Britain, among others, and improves markedly on them -- what other big-budget WWII adventure could accommodate a climax that cuts riskily between one of the protagonists being tortured in a concentration camp and his pal/rival flying above on a Christmas Eve bombing raid? The most cogent analysis is by Verhoeven himself three decades later in Black Book, "a woman’s view." Cinematography by Jost Vacano. With Edward Fox, Dolf de Vries, Peter Farber, and Andrea Domburg.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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