Sonny Boy (2011) Review

Sonny Boy (2011)
Director: Maria Peters
Cast: Ricky Koole, Sergio Hasselbaink, Angelo Arnhem
Plot: In the late 1920s, a young student begins an interracial romance with an older, married woman and fathers a child. Based on a true story set during WWII.

Sonny Boy (2011) is only voiced in Dutch as it was directed by a well-known Dutch film producer, director and screenwriter named Maria Peters. What is interesting to comment on is that the film is directed by a woman, which seems to be very rare when it comes to war movies, even when those war movies have elements of the period drama in them, as is the case here. The female director should be commemorated for the way in which she told the true life story of the movie, that is: a love affair between a white woman by the name of Rika, who lives a comfortable life in The Hague, Holland due to being re-housed because of her large family of five children, and a black man called Waldemar Nods who is discriminated against due to his dark skin. This is definitely a drama film that is not for the light-hearted as it presents the journey Waldemar, who moves into Rika’s house as a lodger after saving money to study in the Netherlands, and falls in love with his landlady after she discovers her religious and faithful husband has been cheating on her with their maid, Jans. Rika, who is 17 years older than Waldemar falls pregnant with a boy, who they nickname ‘Sonny Boy’.

It’s easy to love the charismatic character of Waldemar, played by actor Sergio Hasselbaink, whose journey we follow to a concentration camp where he is drafted to the mailroom due to his ability to speak many languages. Here he writes long and loving letters to Rika, who has been shipped to a concentration camp in Ravensbrück, where she ultimately dies. Much of the power of the presentation of this story comes from the way that Hasselbaink’s acting moves the audience and therefore encourages them to believe love can conquer all, as we are shown his anguish and passion as the story develops to inform us that the only reason he keeps going in a situation as awful as the one he finds himself in is due to his love and feelings for Rika and his son Sonny Boy. This is, of course, not a new film idea as many war films portray similar stories, but what makes it most touching is the fact that it is a true story. The idea of risking one’s life by escaping a concentration camp and swimming an ocean to return to your family is something that many prisoners must have considered and possibly even tried.

Rika, the leading female of the piece, is an important woman for a good reason: she hides and rescues Jewish families from concentration camps. Although she does this in return for money in order to support her family, she still puts her life in danger to rescue people she doesn’t even know, while continuing to present this façade of a woman who is unsympathetic towards Jewish citizens. Although this plot was made popular by films such as Schindler’s List, the main difference is that it takes place in a country that too few people know about or understand with regard to its role in the war. Although The Netherlands is not one of the main countries affected by WWII and Hitler’s Jewish extermination, I feel that this makes the movie all the more interesting as it shows how every day ordinary citizens of even the mainly uninvolved countries were affected by such drastic decisions made by country leaders.

This is a film which portrays true emotions of love, sympathy and fear in a time where the whole world was thrown into chaos and destruction. What makes it most moving is not necessarily the overarching plot, but the ending. The audience learns that Waldemar was never found, nor did he ever know of Rika’s death or what happened to his son, who ultimately grew up to discover what his parents experienced through the letters his father wrote and sent to Rika’s house. It depicts a period of history which should never be forgotten and how even people nowadays are still affected and dealing with the destruction which took place during WWII.

The scenes may be considered to be long and slow-moving, especially when it comes to intimate private scenes between Rika and Waldemar as they dance together or adjust to one another’s presence as they realise they are falling in love. This does, however, work to clearly illustrate that the characters feel there is no need to rush their emotions or relationship, regardless of what the future might hold for them. In contrast, the quick and past paced shots towards the end of the film help to illustrate the confusion felt by each of the central characters as they are thrown into concentration camps without truly understanding what is going on or their awaiting fate. These scenes are importantly accompanied by a fantastic and moving orchestral score than dominates particular periods in the film and is used as an effective substitute for speech as a means of portraying emotion at some of the most key moments.

In conclusion, the film shows a unique aspect of life during WWII; that of an interracial couple who were torn apart due to one woman’s perseverance to help Jewish families, and a man who was discriminated against just because of his skin colour, the latter of which is still relevant today.

Overall Sonny Boy (2011) has clever plot, moving score and great actors that were managed effectively by its their talented director but I feel that some scenes caused the film to drag on without adding much, if any, useful content. For that reason, I give the film…

18/24

Michelle Kohnen

Michelle Kohnen

I'm a 20 year old Dutch woman living and studying in the UK. My aim is to bring more attention to foreign language films; particularly those from the Netherlands.
Michelle Kohnen

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