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Based on a Flemish war novel, Wil struggles to translate the book’s hefty themes onto the big screen. With more moral nuances and less rushed characterisations, this could have been a much better film.

Wil was the big winner of the recent Ensor prizes, the Flemish equivalent of the Oscars. But while the film is mostly excellently crafted and doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of collaboration with the Germans in occupied 1940s Antwerp, the film’s emotional core does not ring loud or original enough.

Director Tim Mielants paints the story of a morally conflicted young cop in the same brown, nostalgic hues that made his work on Peaky Blinders stand out, but you wonder why he didn’t have the audacity to film Wil in a more suitable black and white, while he only occasionally gets much-needed suffocating claustrophobia out of the Academy ratio frame.

He is also hamstrung by a script that continually borders on the predictable, both in terms of narrative and moral ambiguity. None of the characters are clearly defined beyond a few broad strokes and their character arcs are either rushed (the love story in particular is hurt by this) or blend into the background, as is the case with Matteo Simon’s storyline, despite his prominence on the poster.

Lead Stef Aerts is reacting more than he is acting, but he sells his subdued inner conflict nicely, which cannot be said for the bland Simoni. I felt more engaged to what old pros Jan Decleir, Dirk Roofthooft and Jan Bijvoet were doing in secondary roles, but the script doesn’t give them enough opportunities to shine.

Overall, Wil tells a story from the darkest pages of Flemish history with solemn sincerity and decent narrative propulsion, but without much flair, tension or surprises. Unlike the novel it is based on, the movie seems unlikely to become a Flemish classic.

release: 2023

director: Tim Mielants

starring: Stef Aerts, Matteo Simoni, Jan Bijvoet, Annelore Crollet, Dirk Roofthooft


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