Will, Netflix’s imported Belgian film in regards to the ethical impossibility of life below Nazi occupation throughout World Struggle II, broadcasts itself with surprising bluntness. Inside its first 10 minutes, it’s made clear that co-writer and director Tim Mielants intends to confront the grisly horrors of the Holocaust head-on. However it’s additionally obvious that the movie is constructed extra like a thriller than a somber drama, and it tightens the screws on its lead character — younger policeman Wilfried Wils (Stef Aerts) — in a sequence of breathless setups with escalating stakes.
It’s an efficient approach to pull viewers into empathizing with the terrible dilemmas confronted by an occupied inhabitants, and into bearing recent witness to acquainted horrors. However the thriller style units up expectations — climax, catharsis, redemption — which threat trivializing the fabric, and set one thing of an moral entice. Who’s going to fall into it: the filmmakers, or the viewers? Mielants is simply too tough-minded to be caught, it seems, however that’s dangerous information for the remainder of us. Will nurses a glimmer of hope within the darkness, solely to snuff it out fully. It is a bleak, bleak film.
It’s 1942, and Wil (referred to within the subtitles by the Dutch spelling of his identify, regardless of the English title Will) and Lode (Matteo Simoni) are recent recruits to the police drive within the port metropolis of Antwerp. Earlier than their first patrol, their commanding officer, Jean (Jan Bijvoet), arms out regulation platitudes in regards to the police being “mediators between our individuals and the Germans.” Then he sheds that pretense and provides some off-the-record recommendation: “You stand there and also you simply watch.” The anomaly of those phrases echoes by way of the entire film. Is it cowardice to face by and watch the Nazis at work, or heroism to refuse to cooperate with them? Are the occupied Belgians washing their arms of the Nazis’ crimes, or bearing witness to them?
Wil and Lode don’t have lengthy to ponder these questions. No sooner have they left the station on their first patrol than a ranting, drugged-up German soldier calls for they accompany him on the arrest of some individuals who “refuse to work”: a Jewish household, in different phrases. The younger males are initially paralyzed by the state of affairs, however issues spiral uncontrolled, extra by way of desperation than heroic resistance on the a part of the 2 policemen. Within the aftermath, Lode and Wil return to work in a state of paranoid terror.
Picture: Les Movies Du Fleuve/Netflix
Mielants, working with screenwriter Carl Joos from a novel by Jeroen Olyslaegers, wastes no time in utilizing this premise to discover the paranoid quagmire of the occupied metropolis. Can the 2 younger males belief one another? The place do their sympathies lie? Wil’s civil-servant father leads him to hunt assist from native worthy Felix Verschaffel (the wonderful Dirk Roofthooft), who boasts of being pals with the Germans’ commanding officer, Gregor Schnabel (Dimitrij Schaad). Immediately, Wil is indebted to a grasping, antisemitic collaborator.
In the meantime, Lode’s mistrustful household — particularly his fiery sister Yvette (Annelore Crollet) — wish to know extra. Does Wil converse any German at house? What radio station does he take heed to? In occupied Antwerp — a area the place German and French phrases naturally combine in with the native Dutch dialect — an harmless selection of phrase or of leisure listening comes freighted with harmful political significance. “There isn’t a lot on the radio,” Wil responds. “Are you able to suggest one thing?”
Again and again throughout the film, Wil makes use of deflections like this to squirm out of taking a place on the occupation. However finally, he begins working to avoid wasting Jewish lives. Actions might converse louder than phrases, however even within the tooth of a febrile affair with Yvette, Wil continues to maintain his phrases to himself. As Schnabel’s internet closes in, Wil’s warning retains him and his pals alive, however the fee is heavy.
It’s a daring transfer to heart a thriller in regards to the Holocaust on a protagonist who, on some degree, refuses to choose a aspect. We will solely empathize with Wil as a result of Mielants so successfully masses nearly each scene and line of dialogue with implicit menace. Will is a tense, darkish, horrifying film, filmed claustrophobically in a boxy ratio with lenses that blur the sting of the body. The performing is intense (typically to a fault), and there are frequent bursts of disagreeable, graphic violence because the strain builds.
Photograph: Les Movies Du Fleuve/Netflix
However although Schaad typically appears to be doing a weak impression of Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Will isn’t that film, and Mielants isn’t concerned about Tarantino’s fashion of catharsis. On the finish of the film, the vicious, inescapable entice he set for all of the characters merely snaps shut. Will exhibits that below the remorseless illogic of Nazi occupation, survival is collaboration, and resistance is loss of life.
That’s a depressing payload for the film to hold, and it’s debatable how constructive it’s. Jonathan Glazer’s chilling The Zone of Curiosity, presently in theaters, exhibits that difficult new views on the human mechanics of the Holocaust are as important now as they’ve ever been. Thirty years in the past, Schindler’s Record achieved one thing comparable, and simply as crucial, by way of radically totally different means: It discovered a thread of hope and compassion that might lead a large viewers into the center of the nightmare and throw it into aid.
Will is simply too burdened by its viewpoint to handle something comparable. It’s clear-sighted on the merciless compromises of occupation and collaboration, however so fatalistic about them that it winds up wallowing in its personal guilt and hopelessness. That’s a darkish type of fact, and never essentially one which anybody wants to listen to.
Will is streaming on Netflix now.