The Resistance Banker movie review: Netherlands' Oscar pick is near-perfect World War II recap
Joram Lursen’s Dutch World War II period drama The Resistance Banker is an astonishing tale of courage, duty and loyalty that everyone should watch
Who can tell how many stories of courage and inspiration lie hidden in the forgotten chapters of an episode as important and as impactful as the Second World War? Countless tales have been told of the way human spirit has survived against the overwhelming oppression of the war, and yet, we seem to have merely scratched the surface. Filmmaker Joram Lursen’s Dutch World War II period drama film Bankier van het Verzet (The Resistance Banker) is an astonishing tale of courage, duty and loyalty that everyone should watch, no matter which part of the globe you reside in. Not only will it take your breath away with the sheer strength of its story, it will also enthrall you with the superlative quality of its craft.
The Resistance Banker is the story of Walraven van Hall, fondly known as ‘Wally’ to friends and family. Born to an affluent and influential family, when Wally is discharged from the Dutch Merchant Marine on account of poor eyesight, he returns home and joins his brother Gijs van Hall to become a banker. The two brothers excel in their profession and become renowned names, winning the trust of their clients and customers and establishing themselves in the market. They live a happy and prosperous life with their wives and children. But with the German occupation of Netherlands in 1940, they witness a number of their friends, neighbours and colleagues being herded off to concentration camps either for forced labour, or for the more grim purpose of being summarily executed. Wally, whose ancestors had once waged against the King of Prussia (Germany), finds this extremely difficult to digest – although being influential names in the circuit themselves, neither he nor his brother nor their families come in the way of direct harm. His brother Gijs, however, has apparently mastered the subtle art of looking the other way, and urges him to remain calm.
But Wally does not take his advice. He begins to fund the Dutch resistance to the occupation by reviving a defunct welfare fund that had once been set up to benefit the families of merchant sailors who had been stranded aboard once the war broke out. He uses the fund as a clandestine vessel to raise money in the form of loans, illegally siphoning off a portion of it to finance acts of resistance. Technically speaking, he commits bank fraud. As the resistance gathers momentum, the need for finances grew, and more and more Wally’s methods become bolder and bolder. He goes to the extent of robbing the Netherlands State Bank, forging bonds and certificates, with the help of an unwilling Gijs who later joins the game. Living under the constant threat of being discovered, Wally is forced to stay away from his family, until one day, the Germans get to him.
As an account of history, The Resistance Banker is undeniably awe-inspiring. It reminds us of people like Oskar Schindler – influential people, people who were themselves never in danger of being directly harmed by the Nazis, but did everything within their means to save those who were not so fortunate. They risked everything they had to save the Jews. Theirs is a sacrifice one can never forget.
But what is more remarkable about The Resistance Banker is that as a film, it is impeccably made. The script is near perfect, with several scenes that will continue to haunt you long after the end credits have rolled. I simply have to talk about this one scene in which Wally is taking a train from Zaandam to Amsterdam, and on the way, his train stops to let another one pass in the adjoining track. As the other train passes by, the passengers of the first one are horrified to hear cries of help from the other one – infants weeping, mothers shrieking, husbands and father writhing in pain – all being ferried to their deaths at the nearest concentration camp. Most passengers force themselves to maintain a straight face, some thank their stars that it’s not them on the other train and all the while, Wally wrings a newspaper in his hand, his breath becomes heavy, and he can’t seem to bear the suffering of the poor souls. It is virtually impossible to remain unaffected by such a horrifying scene, and yet, come to think of it, there’s no blood, no gore, no deaths being shown. Just a terrifying fate, a dark possibility that we all know today had come true.
The performances of all the actors in the film – without exception – are pitch perfect. Barry Atsma ensures that you remain constantly invested in his character – the bold and rebellious Walraven van Hall. His pseudonym, which he borrows from his now defunct ancestral family name, becomes so famous in the resistance circuits that it finally ends up spelling his doom. What is even more tragic is to learn that for the longest period of time, even after the war was over, the Dutch government did not give him the honour he deserved – simply because technically speaking, his means to the end were not entirely legal, and because they constituted bank fraud and other crimes. It is only today that the people of Netherlands know the role he played in their freedom movement.
It is not without reason that The Resistance Banker has been chosen as Netherland’s entry to the Oscars this year. It is a fascinating film that is well researched, well written, beautifully crafted and one that can deservedly boast of some of the most terrific performances in recent times. I strongly recommend you make time for it.
The Resistance Banker is currently streaming on Netflix.
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