If you’ve seen countless films featuring the struggle of the Jewish people throughout the Holocaust and beyond, you might assume you’d be familiar with the topic. War of Resistance proves this is not the case.
Most films based around the Second World War, and more specifically the Nazi regime, tend to go down the gung-ho route. Heroic soldiers charging across the battlefield. Nuns stripping a Nazi vehicle’s engine to help escaping Von Trapp children. Guns and glory are the modus operandi of historical cinema focusing on the decade that saw the most harrowing conflict in recent human history.
War of Resistance (also known as Return to the Hiding Place, if you’re attempting to Google it with no luck) charts the story of Hans (David Thomas Jenkins), a member of a student body in Holland who, along with his fellow classmates, initiates a rebellion against the Nazi forces sweeping across Europe, some of whom proceeding to ‘remove’ perceived undesirables from their teaching posts. Much of the film’s story and historical events are taken from The Hiding Place, the autobiography of Corrie ten Boom (portrayed by the talented and amusing Mimi Sagadin), a Holocaust survivor who was instrumental to the survival of many Jewish citizens in Holland.
Most of the principal characters share similar motivations, they are all inherently noble, decent and, to some extent, somewhat lacking in human qualities as a result. The constant optimism and occasional L’Oreal-advert locks of Hans and his student cohorts swinging in the wind gives the film a poetic if somewhat unrealistic feel at times, along with copious uses of bloom and sunny countryside.
Despite this, I found myself drawn into the world that director, producer and writer Peter C. Spencer has built, primarily because he’s opted for a more behind-the-scenes look at the carnage of the Thirties and Forties. Resistance creates a more subtle sense of menace and danger as the cast sneak though houses and attend clandestine meetings where they forgo kosher meals in order to eat and survive. Sacrifice and focus are the order of the day here, and this turns an average film into one that will capture the imagination of anyone who considers themselves passionately interested in WW2 cinema.
There are some haunting scenes, and one scene in particular that uses an animal to depict Jews, with Nazis symbolically exterminating them as an officer overseas with the icy detachment of a psychopath. There’s no holding back, here – Spencer stops at nothing to highlight the many sadistic aspects of the Nazi regime, from alleged paedophilia to the murder of those with disabilities.
It’s charted throughout by the work of the resistance, forming an organised journalistic outfit who document the every move of the Nazi regime in their area of Holland, risking life and limb to ensure that nothing goes unseen, and nothing is hidden from the public. This is no Diary of Anne Frank, however – her attic-world is somewhat more scaled down, and her inquisitive and youthful mind offers a sole perspective on the conflict rather than the depth and breadth offered here. The scale of what is happening is clear on many levels, the small band of rebels are also not hiding behind a secret door, and it rarely feels like it either.
John Rhys Davies is a highlight, bringing the sound acting abilities, seen in Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings, to bear as a local Jewish man who embodies the righteous indignation of the proud individual who backs down to no one. Although his accent isn’t completely flawless (think Gerard Butler in 300), he channels the rage of his character in a way that I found refreshing, as it cancels out a few of the countless Jews-in-hiding stereotypes I’ll label as “Hollywood helpless.” The situation breaks him eventually, and it’s a sorrowful moment when it does.
The acting is sound across the board, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see some of the cast appearing in more prominent roles in Hollywood productions. There’s a lot of potential for ‘in-depth, guerrilla journalism’ approaches to major historical events, and Spencer draws the audience in by mixing horror-genre tension with the horrific acts committed by the Nazis. A great thriller for those who love action, history, and a grittily realistic approach to topics that need no Hollywood gloss.