For a Lost Soldier is, above all other things, tender; I can think of no other film I’ve seen that is quite as tender.
The problem is that it is emotionally difficult, for some it would be emotionally disturbing. An additional problem is what I see as an extremely incomplete story, particularly emotionally.
In 1980, the Dutch are celebrating their liberation from the Nazis 35 years earlier. Jeroen (Jeroen Krabbe) is a choreographer designing a dance to symbolize this event. He keeps changing whole facets of the dance which angers his dancers and his partner. To clear his head, he makes a trip back to the town where he was in foster care for the end of the war (1944-45). He meets his younger self, the memory self, at the village church. Here the story goes back to 1944 when the young Jeroen (Maarten Smit) leaves Amsterdam for the Dutch country side. He stays with a very loving and religious family there. Jeroen is in his very early teens and is beginning to discover sexuality. While his friend Jan (Derk-Jan Kroon) is in the same psycho-physical boat, Jan’s sexuality is oriented entirely towards women. Jeroen knows he is different and does what he can to explore in a meek and quiet way—looking at Jan naked after a swim, touching his older bedmate Henk (Wiendelt Hooijer) while he is asleep. This exploration goes into super high gear when the town is liberated and Jeroen hooks up with a Canadian soldier, Walt (Andrew Kelley). Here a simulacrum of the Lolita/Humbert Humbert dynamic starts. Whatever relationship they have is never coercive from either direction. It ends after a few days when Holland as a whole is liberated and Walt leaves without saying good-bye. The film ends where it begins, in the dance studio, this time with the choreography fixed.
Before getting to the analysis, the camera work and acting are above average. With the exception of a few stereotypical characters, the characters are properly rounded out and no one stands out as being fantastic or terrible. The camera work matches the themes of the film very well. The musical mood didn’t do a good job of matching the mood of the images and was often in the way.
The emotional difficulty/disturbing facet is obvious. Any time sex between adults and teenagers is portrayed, whether ‘honestly’ through standard film, or pruriently and suggestively through porn, it is going to cause strong reactions. For a Lost Soldier is careful only to suggest a truly sexual relationship between Walt and Jeroen. It is completely open about the emotions both of the males feel and express, but there is only the smallest hint in one scene to suggest a sexual relationship. For anyone made uncomfortable by even the hint of such a relationship, best to avoid this film altogether.
The film explores Jeroen’s relationship with several males, and with the exception of touching Henk, all of these relationships are appropriate. They are also emotionally tender.
Jeroen is sent away from his mother into the arms of strangers; however, there is zero suspicion of him and zero animosity. By the time he is to leave his foster family, he has made an impression on them as they have on him. The parting is very painful for the foster family. This is refreshing given that most of the time this sort of situation occurs the foster child is usually treated either harshly or just with a certain amount of neglect.
My main problem with it is that the film is emotionally incomplete. We know why the adult Jeroen changes his dance often then settles on one design after a trip back to his idyllic foster town. We know most of the details of the relationship with Walt, but there is nothing at all between leaving the town in 1945 and designing a dance in 1980. The film ends with something that is essentially impossible. Along with an enlargement of the only photo he has from that time period, Jeroen is also given an enlargement of a section of the photo that has Walt’s dog tag, crystal clear. Not only is this impossible, but since the credits begin to roll immediately after, it is not possible to know what Jeroen intends. The film covers an emotional high point with nothing to compare it against. The film is a Sherpa who takes you to the top of the mountain then just abandons you to find your own way back down.
This narrative lacuna is such a problem that it ruins what is otherwise a touching film. The themes covered are not for everyone. If adult/teen sexuality of any kind makes you nervous, avoid it. Otherwise, it isn’t bad for a rainy day; just be prepared to be left wanting when the film ends.
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