The Forgotten Battle 2021

The Forgotten Battle (De Slag Om De Schelde), Netflix’s NFLX +0.6% first Dutch film, has jumped to the streamer’s Top 10 list in many countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and France, one day after its release on October 15. The war film won five awards for Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design and Sound Design at the Nederlands Film Festival awards ceremony earlier this month.

The Forgotten Battle opens in September 1944, on the island of Walcheren in Zeeland, a southwestern province of the Netherlands that borders with Belgium. In the midst of the Second World War, three young lives, Netflix’s official synopsis tells us, find themselves inextricably connected.

The forgotten battle in question is the Battle of the Scheldt. Months after Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy (D-Day and the Battle of Normandy), the Allies are rapidly advancing west, defeating the Nazi troops. The Allies liberate the Belgian port of Antwerp—crucial in getting access to the North Sea and thus secure supply lines. In order to use the port though, the Allies needed to clear the region between Antwerp and the North Sea along the Scheldt River, which was occupied by Nazi troops. This task was given to the First Canadian Army, and is considered the largest operation in the Netherlands during the war.

The three main characters The Forgotten Battle follows are not Canadian soldiers. The film’s three main storylines concern a Dutch young man fighting for the Nazis, an English glider pilot, and a Zeeland girl who will reluctantly join the resistance. Their stories intertwine throughout the film revealing different sides and perspectives from the same war.

Teuntje Visser (Susan Radder) works at the mayor’s office in Vlissingen on the island of Walcheren. After her brother Dirk (Ronald Kalter) is arrested by the Nazis, Teuntje turns to the resistance to try and save him. At the S.S. headquarters, she meets a young Dutch soldier, Marinus van Staveren (Gijs Blom). He was transferred to a desk job in Zeeland after being injured in battle out on the Russian front, serving as a Dutch member of the Wehrmacht infantry. Meanwhile in Dorset, Will Sinclair (Jamie Flatters), a glider pilot, is training with the RAF. The British objective is to take Arnhem with Operation Market Garden. En route to Arnhem, Will’s glider is hit by Nazi cannon fire and falls in the Nazi-occupied flooded estuary of the Scheldt River. He must now find his way to the Canadian Army lines. Through these three storylines, the film describes the events leading up to the Battle of the Scheldt, as lived through by these three fictional characters.

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What is most interesting about this film is the way that it plunges viewers into the action, due in part to the film’s visceral images by cinematographer Lennert Hillege. The war scenes at the end of the film, for example, that depict the Battle of the Scheldt, feel confusing and disorienting. The handheld camera always stays close to Will, as if advancing with him, falling to the ground when he does, seeing limbs torn off of soldiers next to him, bodies hit by bullets falling down to their deaths. The film recreates the mayhem that is being in the line of enemy fire in battle, as confused and disoriented with fear as Will appears to be.

The Forgotten Battle is the Netherlands’ second most expensive film made, with a budget of around €14 million (Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, another WWII film, had a budget of around €18 million). It is an ambitious film, not only in terms of its budget but in the scope it tries to cover in over 2 hours. Produced by Alain De Levita, who was approached by the vfonds, the National Fund for Peace, Freedom and Veterans Care in Holland, The Forgotten Battle is a film created “in honour of 75 years of liberation to make the younger generation aware of what happened in the Netherlands.” The different view points in the film thus serve to confront viewers with the choices young people at the time faced. Teuntje continued to work at the mayor's office, which was collaborating with the Nazis, and only reluctantly joins the resistance, unlike her brother Dirk and her friend Janna (Marthe Schneider), who appear to have worked throughout the war with the resistance. Dutch soldier Marinus volunteered to join the Wehrmacht, brainwashed to believe a lie created by the Nazi propaganda, but once he witnesses the inhuman brutality of the Nazis, becomes disillusioned. Will's cheerfulness at the beginning of the film, considering war like a game, quickly vanishes once he experiences the unforgiving violence of warfare.

The Forgotten Battle, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. from a screenplay written by Paula van der Oest, is an immersive film about the Dutch experience of the war.
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