Film & Television
Boy Dancing With Man (boy's dream)
Maarten Smit and Andrew Kelley as
Jeroen Boman and Walt Cook

For A Lost Soldier
 by Frank Torey
IN THE AUTUMN of 1944, the Allied troops had driven through Belgium and the southern part of the Netherlands, but left the north still in the grip of the Germans. A strike was called by the Dutch railway workers, and in vengeance, the Germans cut off food and fuel to the area they still held. The so-called "hunger winter" followed. The Germans, of course, kept themselves warm and well-fed, and continued to round up Jews and send them off to the torture and death camps (some 50,000 were shipped out of Amsterdam alone). But many Amsterdammers starved and froze to death, as the last winter of the war turned out to be exceptionally severe. Those parents who could, sent their children away to host families in the countryside where food was less scarce.

        Rudi van Danzig was one of those children. Until shortly after the occupation ended the following spring, he lived with a fisher family in the northern province of Friesland. Over forty years later, in 1986, he wrote a fictionalized account of this experience -- a brooding, touching novel entitled, "Voor een verloren soldaat". Remarkably, it deals in large part with the sexually expressed friendship he developed with a soldier in the Canadian army of liberation.
Boy and Soldier riding in Jeep
        Van Danzig has long been a well-known figure in Amsterdam. For years he was one of the lead dancers in the Netherlands Ballet and went on to an even more distinguished career as choreographer. Now he was proving to be a gifted writer as well. His novel became an instant best-seller. It was beautifully translated into English and published in London by Bodley Head in 1990 as "For a Lost Soldier." In early 1992, a film loosely based on the book and bearing the same title opened in Dutch theaters to lukewarm and unfavorable reviews, and starting in spring 1993, the film has been shown around North America, first at gay and art-film festivals, and then through commercial release.

        The Dutch critics found the film too "pretty," too "nice," in comparison with the darkly-hued novel. Probably what disturbed them most was that in the book the twelve-year-old boy has ambivalent feelings about this first sexual experience of his life (what the specific acts were is left up to the reader's imagination), while in the film, amazingly enough, the boy is simply and sunnily in love with the soldier and has few observable problems with the sex.

Maarten Smit        Bad reviews coupled with the rather unusual nature of the love story soon pushed the film out of the major movie halls and into one small theater in the west of Amsterdam, where over the summer of 1992 it was patronized by a mixed audience of fellow-survivors of the hunger winter and gays and boy-lovers. The latter tended to come back time after time, often bringing foreign friends and interpreting the dialogue for them as the film progressed.

        The critics are right in one respect: "Voor een verloren soldaat" is no unflawed masterpiece. A present-time frame in which the adult van Danzig (played by the Dutch-American actor Jeroen Krabbe) is rehearsing dancers for some sort of liberation-commemoration ballet gets the movie off to a bad start. But as soon as the film flashes back forty years to the war, it comes very much alive. We see the twelve-year-old boy bundled off at dawn into a truck with other children, many in a state of shock at being separated from their parents. We see him slowly adjusting to the simple, deeply religious but warm-hearted fisherfolk and learning to understand the Frisian language. Finally we watch him drawing the attention of the Canadian soldier, flirting with him, falling in love, becoming his lover, and with anguish, losing him when the troops move on.

        Martin Smit, who plays the boy, is nothing short of brilliant. He possesses a face not only handsome but remarkably expressive. The part calls for a great variety of moods. In a 1992 television talk show interview, young Smit (by then fourteen) said he didn't have much trouble with the crying he had to do (he just thought about his mother dying), but laughing was often a problem: there was one scene where he thought his laugh was false and it gave him the shivers every time he saw it. (This reviewer didn't spot the place; the boy always seems natural and in character.)

        Andrew Kelly is convincing as the charismatic and somewhat enigmatic Canadian soldier, hiding behind his dark glasses and never, amidst the uncertainties of war, able to abandon himself emotionally to the boy as the boy has abandoned himself to the soldier. He is an excellent foil to young Smit's fresh, magnetic presence.

        There are many other excellencies of the film: the prosaic but always honest camera work, the mis en scene in the same Frisian villages where van Danzig spent those wartime months, the touching portrayal by Freark Smink of the boy's foster father. Don Bloch's screenplay is good on the whole, and the direction by Roeland Kerbosch (who as a child had also been sent to Friesland during the hunger winter) is, like the camera work, sensitive without being in any way idiosyncratic or obtrusive.

        But what will interest readers most is the movie's exploration of the relationship, emotional and physical, between the two lovers. Here the film has virtually no contemporary equal in honesty, frankness, or charm.

        There is one short scene in which the boy and the soldier are just getting to know one another. The soldier, driving a jeep, overtakes the boy walking home. He tells him to hop in, but the boy turns on his heel and walks back in the opposite direction. The soldier puts the jeep into reverse and backs up past the boy, who, head held high, has a slight teasing smile on his lips. When the soldier starts to move forward again, the boy, now grinning broadly, reverses direction again and walks down the middle of the road in front of the jeep, not allowing it to pass. Smit and Kelly play out this little drama absolutely perfectly; in fact it remains in the viewer's mind long after some of the more dramatic moments have faded from memory.

        The two lovers indulge in a lot of high-spirited horseplay, which when the circumstances are right, leads to intimacies filmed with neither embarrassment nor apology. We see man and boy kissing, stripping naked, showering, climbing under the covers. There is one long, lovingly photographed close-up of the boy's face as the soldier, lying upon him, penetrates him anally. We see them later lying naked on the bed in loose embrace and in post-orgasmic bliss. All of this is handled in perfect taste, of necessity with a minimum of words, since the boy speaks little English and the soldier no Dutch.

        An English sub-titled version is now showing in North America, but the dialogue is not terribly important in understanding the film; there are, after all, three languages spoken at various times -- Dutch, Frisian and English -- sometimes to the confusion of one character or another, so meaning is usually adequately conveyed by other means.

        It is wonderful that in this time of world-wide puritanism a book that depicts a man-boy sexual relationship in all of its troubling aspects inspired a beautifully acted and well-produced film celebrating the sunny side of boy-love. It is as if the film-makers were saying, "Wait- it doesn't have to be all this complicated and agonizing. The discovery of physical love, even at age twelve, can be a happy, precious thing." Once again we see that there really are people in the world who recognize the child abuse industry's malign image of the boy-lover for what it is: opportunistic propaganda no better than the Nazi's depiction of the predatory Jew, Gypsy, and homosexual which was part and parcel of the great European tragedy against which this luminous film is set.



From Gayme, Vol. 1, No. 1, Pgs. 40 - 42, Sept 1993
Copyright © NAMBLA, 2006

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