War, Nazi occupation tests young friends in Dutch drama

Maas Bronkhuyzen and Pippa Allen in ‘Secrets of War.’ 

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

When Tuur, a Dutch boy in the film “Secrets of War” returns home with his hair full of dust, his parents realize he has been snooping around in caves near Limburg, their village. 

The parents tell him for the first time of many in this World War II movie to stay away from something. In other scenes, the instructions are to not ask questions about the strange things happening around their German-occupied town.

Director Dennis Bots’ film is adapted from a children’s novel of the same name and centers on the friendship between two 12-year-old boys: the dark-haired Tuur (Maas Bronkhuyzen), and the blonde Lambert (Joes Brauers). 

The boys are on a constant adventure, playing games, making discoveries and promising to keep each other’s secrets. 


But how long can they maintain their childish innocence when they have to run to cellars during air raids and see their neighbors taken away by German soldiers?

The film offers a peek into what life may have been like for children during the war. But then again, the boys themselves don’t seem rattled enough for you to really get a sense of the trauma that people experienced. Even though the film is targeted at young adults, Bots keeps too many secrets.

The first twist in the boys’ friendship happens when they meet Maartje (Pippa Allen, in a solid performance), a girl with curly dark hair who says she’s staying with relatives in town because her father is busy caring for her sick mother. Maartje says she is from north Holland, but she speaks German and doesn’t eat the pork sausage Tuur offers her. 

Meanwhile, Lambert’s father is collaborating with the Nazis and his brother is a member of the Hitler Youth Storm. We also learn that Tuur’s parents aren’t on the Germans’ side and that they are hiding something. But whenever Tuur asks his parents about what is happening, he doesn’t get any answers.

“Sometimes it’s best to know as little as possible,” his father tells him. 

While Tuur is initially reluctant to let Maartje join them, Lambert convinces him to let her come to the caves. After she proves her nerve when Tuur tries to scare her by blowing out a candle, he warms to her and a friendship among the three develops. 

That childhood friendship, however, is tested by the adults’ secrets and disagreements over whether they should support the Nazis, remain neutral or join the Dutch Resistance. It seems like the director wanted to have jealousy between the boys over Maartje also play a role in the conflict but he doesn’t develop that emotion enough for it to be convincing. 

The strongest parts of the film happen in the scenes when Lambert observes his family’s collaboration with the Nazis. 

The plot moves in predictable fashion, though, and the director uses the device of a character staring through a hole and discovering something too many times.

That said, you still feel for the children as their lives are disrupted by the war. 

At one point, Tuur, upset about a command from his parents, runs down to the train tracks and uses a slingshot to hurl rocks at a passing train. 

“Stupid war,” he yells. “Stupid bloody war.”

Certainly. You just wish Tuur didn’t need to yell it to let you know.