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FILMS / REVIEWS Belgium / Netherlands / Poland

Review: Wil


- With this historical film, a kind of tragic farce whose style and tone are unexpected, Tim Mielants casts a frank and uncompromising eye over the history of Belgium

Review: Wil
Matteo Simoni and Stef Aerts in Wil

Antwerp, 1942. For Wil, history isn’t just a series of dates, but a succession of events and situations that can only be understood in retrospect. Wil is an auxiliary policeman in Antwerp, a context made all the more complex by his mission: he is supposed to be in between the German occupiers, and the Belgian population. The situation is unsustainable, as Will and his young colleague, Lode, are called to collaborate on the hunt for Jews, all the while secretly supporting the resistance. A dramatic incident will force them to make painful choices of the kind that they believed they’d already acted on. After his debut feature Patrick [+see also:
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, a psychological thriller that tended towards the absurd, Tim Mielants (also known as a director on successful series such as Peaky Blinders or The Responder) tries his hand at the historical film with Wil, though with a slightly offbeat approach. The film is released in Belgian cinemas on 27 September by Kinepolis, and the next day in the Netherlands by Paradiso.

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Wil (played by Stef Aerts) is a young artist, an impetuous and idealistic painter, whose destiny is forever changed by the war. With a certain naivete, he rushed headling into situations and underestimates the danger. Facing him is Lode (played by Matteo Simoni, and more silent than ever), who appears shut down by the heaviness of the war, even if his participation in the resistance  leaves no doubt about his affiliations. Their association following an accident could have resulted in some kind of equilibrium, were it not for Yvette, Lode’s sister, fierce and headstrong (Annelore Crollet, in her first major film role). Her intransigence and irreducible righteousness drives the trio into a corner. 

In front of them, Tim Mielants parades at a fast pace a multitude of supporting characters showing the many faces of Belgium during the German occupation, painting the portraits of resistant fighters, but also and perhaps most of all of collaborators. These portraits are often excessive, as if the horror of the situation had deformed the traits of these (more or less) regular people crushed by History in the making, fighting for their deepest convictions, or their most ferocious compromises. To play them, Mielants has called on a plethora of Flemish actors well known by the Belgian public (Kevin Janssens, Koen De Bouw, Jan Bijvoet, Els Dottermans and Jan Decleir, to name just a few), who take part in this farce which, while shedding a light on the courage of resistance networks, also shines a spotlight on despicable horrors. It also shows the painful choices that some are ready (or not) to make in order to survive.  

Adapted from a best-selling novel by Flemish author Jeroen Olyslaegers, Wil thus returns to a sinister part of Belgium’s history. Mielants' confident mise-en-scène choices sometimes tend towards the grotesque, never hiding the macabre dimension of that era while sometimes pushing for unsettling laughter, as though to imitate the chaos at work. He opts for a nightmarish vision of history, where the absurd leads to horror, and drags us into a gloomy march on a tightrope between good and evil. 

Wil was produced by Letter Scripted Media, Menuetto and Minds Meet (Belgium), in co-production with Les Films du Fleuve (Belgium), Topkapi Films (the Netherlands) and K&K Selekt Films (Poland).

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(Translated from French)

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