Soldier of Orange AKA Soldaat van Oranje (1977)
R0 - United Kingdom - Tartan Video UK
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (5th September 2007).
The Film

“Black Book AKA Zwartboek (2006)” brought the Dutch born director/co-writer Paul Verhoeven back to his homeland. While it was an opportunity for him to make a proper Dutch film after many years, Verhoeven also returned to the subject that has fascinated (and terrified) him ever since he was a young boy in The Hague; the German occupation of the Netherlands. “Black Book” was his second film surrounding WW2, since it all started in “Soldier of Orange AKA Soldaat van Oranje (1977)” over 30 years earlier.

“Soldier of Orange” covers the timeline from 1938, before the war, all the way through to the liberation of the Netherlands in May, 1945. It focuses on the group of University students from the city of Leiden; Erik (Rutger Hauer - e.g. “Blade Runner (1982)” and “The Hitcher (1986)”), Guus (Jeroen Krabbé - e.g. “The Living Daylights (1987)” and “The Fugitive (1993)”), Alex (Derek de Lint - e.g. “Black Book AKA Zwartboek (2006)”) and Jan (Huib Rooymans). Near to their inner circle is also Erik´s friend Robby (Eddy Habbema), with his fiancé Esther (Belinda Meuldijk). Before the German invasion, everything is joyful and relaxed for these students and the days are filled with parties, girls and tennis. Their naïve and playful attitude towards life is evident, since even when WW2 starts in 1939, very few believe that anything will happen to the Netherlands. The worried ones are mostly Jewish. In the morning of May 10, 1940, their lives will be changed forever. Air sirens are screaming, when the German Luftwaffe starts to bomb the Dutch cities. In the attacked areas, panic breaks out. There´s also brave resistance, but after the city of Rotterdam is flattened with the terror bombing, the country surrenders. The Netherlands is soon occupied by Nazi Germany.

Even in the first months of occupation, the optimism is high and life is not very stressful for the students. Idealistic Robby joins the resistance and for Alex this feels more like an adventure than a real “war”. Jan is Jewish, so he´s in real danger. The University is already excluding all Jews and for Jan, things are only going to get worse. Even when Robby doesn´t know it, the German secret police is on his tail. Guus is also playing a dangerous game on his own by taking photos of the German bunkers at the beach. One by one the once tight group of friends will be scattered. The foolish excitement and the disillusions are about to be mixed up in the harsh reality of war. This will take Erik from his cosy apartment to a filthy cell and eventually all the way to London, where he meets Colonel Rafelli (Edward Fox - e.g. “Gandhi (1982)”) and his beautiful aid Susan (Susan Penhaligon - e.g. “The Uncanny (1977)”). He also meets the Queen Wilhelmina (Andrea Domburg) herself, now exiled in England. Erik learns - usually the hard way - that in war, hero and traitor are not that far apart from each other.

Like the “Black Book”, which is essentially the story of a woman, “Soldier of Orange” is Erik´s story. The character is loosely based on Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, the author of the book “Soldaat van Oranje '40-'45”. Adventurous Erik joins the resistance, but soon learns that its members can be executed and tortured by the ruthless Security Police. Every day he or anyone from his friends could be arrested. And in the course of the film, they will be. He´ll also see that at every step of the way, there´s some traitor or at least someone accused to be one. Even the purest patriot can turn to the “other side”, if the pressure amounts. There are very few people that you can really trust and even the “friends” often pursuit their own goals. In the resistance, you´re eventually always on your own, living as a hunted man. This is the hard dilemma for Erik, a man who just a few years ago thought that his toughest ordeal is to get through his (surreal) fraternity ceremony (as seen at the start of the film). Then there´s friendship with his old group of students, who have mainly spread in their own directions. Each of their faiths will be different. Erik will meet them along the way, but sometimes the old friends are changed. War has changed them, like it has changed Erik. Now he learns that there´s traitor in London…

Even when the two films have over 30 years between them, “Soldier of Orange” has some clear parallels to “Black Book”. Both carry the same fundamental message; war is grey. People are not fully “good”, nor fully “evil”. They often have to do very quick, drastic decisions during a time where everything can change in a heartbeat. The Gestapo can break your front door at any time and your most trusted friend can spy for the enemy. A safe ride to England can be a well-planned trap and even the British can use their allies for their own dirty work. All parties are looking for their own interests and those interests don´t always stay for the same very long. Your friend today can be your enemy tomorrow. You just don´t know it. One of the myths that the film is also trying to bust is that the resistance in the occupied countries wasn´t always that noble, nor that the various resistance parties worked in perfect harmony. Often the only common goal was to fight against the Germans, but without that goal, they probably would´ve been at each other´s throats. The story also shows that not all people rose against the occupiers. Some took the silent way and turned their heads away. Some even worked for the enemy. Many “good” people turned into “bad”. Or “grey”.

Like “Black Book”, “Soldier of Orange” is not a conventional war-film and it´s focusing more on the resistance movement and the drama between the main characters. While the “Black Book” was quite an adventurous effort, “Soldier of Orange” is probably more true to the history. It still has scenes that are not always fully believable and the strange black humour by Verhoeven might divide some people. The pacing of the film is also done in a way that some sections are fairly short compared to others. While it´s true that the film spans over the whole occupation-period, some parts are gone almost as fast as they arrived (e.g. the actual “battle” over the Netherlands and the scenes in the end). One reason for this might be that along with this 147 minutes (PAL) theatrical feature, there´s also 4-part “mini-series” (TV-title is “Voor Koningin en Vaderland”), running 207 minutes. Although (apparently) half of this additional material in the mini-series includes archive footage, there is still around 30 minutes worth of extra scenes. These could´ve given more depth to some of the sections that are now lacking.

Verhoeven also uses the historical timeline of the war to his advantage via minor hints along the way. For instance, before the war, someone says that the “Jews arrive here everyday” (referring to the fact that many Jews fled to Netherlands from Germany), later on in the film newspaper headlines shout things like “London bombed” and “Russian front collapsed” (pointing out how well the war once progressed for the Third Reich) and the film also refers to the fact that many Dutch volunteers joined the “Waffen-SS” and fought e.g. in the Easter Front in the German uniform. All this places the story in the wider picture of WW2.

Verhoeven has always been a master in using the violence as a powerful tool in his movies and although “Soldier of Orange” is not overly bloody, it has sudden bursts of violence that come without warning (the first torture scene for instance and the other scene near the end in the concentration camp). These scenes are very effective and feel quite real. Many idealistic resistance fighters died alone somewhere in the hands of the Gestapo. German born cinematographer Jost Vacano (who did several films for Verhoeven and got an Oscar nomination for “Das Boot (1981)”) has done a great job for the film. Sure, in some scenes you´ll see that the film is not done with Hollywood money and some extras and sets are lacking, but generally the film has that authentic look that´s required for this type of film. “Soldier of Orange” is a film that takes you along. You´re glued to the seat and most likely totally focused on the story. It´s not a perfect film and not really for the “combat oriented” fans, but definitely an essential film for all the WW2 buffs out there.

Video

“Tartan Video” has re-released the film with a different cover, but the disc is the same as the original 2002-release. The film is presented in Anamorphic 1.66:1 (with black bars on both sides on a WS-TV) and is a bit of a mixed bag. Blacks sometimes lean more to the murkier side and some softness is present. There were also some compression issues or similar, so the details can get restless. The transfer is relatively clean, but some film artifacts are visible from time to time. The transfer is quite decent, but I wouldn´t say pristine.

NOTE, that the next section might include minor spoiler:
The UK-print includes the short “Intermission (Pauze)” around the 60:16 minute mark like e.g. the R1-release by "Anchor Bay". This revealed some differences between these two releases:

*In the R0 UK-version, the Intermission is shorter - lasting approx. 34 seconds and the image fades to black during it (staying that way all the way through). When it returns, the film starts right off with the scene where the man is jumping into the small boat and then shouts "Auf wiedersehen!" (and off they go). Comparing the same sequence in the R1-release reveals that the UK-version is actually missing some footage after the "Intermission".
*In the R1-version, the Intermission lasts approx. 1:36 minutes and instead of fading to black the image "freezes" (to the image where the soldier is watching to the sea). When it returns to the film, we´re in the cabin of the ship, where Erik (Rutger Hauer) and Guus (Jeroen Krabbé) are a bit seasick and nervous. They hear some voices and spot the unknown battleship in the darkness. Then they finally shout "English!". It´s after this scene when we get to the scene where the man jumps to the small boat (and shouts "Auf wiedersehen!").

So the long story short: The UK-version is first missing approx. 1:02 minutes of the (I assume) original Intermission AND then approx. 44 seconds of actual film after the Intermission (the scene in the cabin of the ship). Hard to say why this is, but at least it´s not related to censorship (nor print damage, I assume).

When it comes to the actual transfer, the US-release seemed a bit sharper to my eyes (sharper image also underlines some of the mediocre aspect of the transfer), but both transfers looked quite similar. Neither one is perfect. I also noticed that the US-release is using “burnt-in” English location/time captions, while in the “Tartan Video”-release they´re player generated (part of the subtitle stream). The “dual layer” UK disc is “R0” encoded and has 30 chapters. The film runs 147:13 minutes (PAL).

Audio

Dutch Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is the only audio choice, along with optional English subtitles. Track is a quite standard and clean Mono-track. It lacks some depth, but is quite a satisfactory choice for the film. Good 5.1-track would´ve worked in some of the “action scenes”, though. Do note, that some English language segments in the film are not subtitled. It also seems that at least some scenes in the film are post-dubbed.

Extras

Original Dutch teaser runs 0:42 seconds and English language theatrical trailer (2:22 min) with the name “Survival Run” (this was another shortened variation of the film) is also included.

Cast & crew filmographies includes director/co-writer Paul Verhoeven and actors Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbé. Film notes by Tom Dawson includes 6 text screens.

Bonus trailers (“World Cinema Trailer Reel”) for “Audition AKA Odishon (1999 - 1:21 min), “Battle Royale AKA Batoru Rowaiaru (2000 - 1:38 min), “Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby (1999 - 1:34 min), “Julien Donkey-Boy (1999 - 2:31 min), “The Terrorist (1999 - 1:47 min), and “The Bergman Collection” (2:58 min) rounds up the extras.

Overall

Essential European war-film from the master of suspense, drama and violence. “Soldier of Orange” has its flaws and it feels a bit “shortened” (from the mini-series), but Verhoeven´s craftsmanship is undeniable. This film should deserve the remastering from the original elements, but in the meantime this “Tartan Video” release will do. The lack of real extras was disappointing.

For more info, please visit the homepage of Tartan Video (UK).

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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