The film Sonny Boy, which came to Staller from the Netherlands for its premiere showing in the U.S., opens in the 1920s and takes viewers through the time periods prior to, during, and following the Holocaust.
Ricky Koole and Sergio Hasselbaink were the film’s leading lady and man. Koole plays the part of Rika, a Dutch mother of four who falls in love with Waldemar, a character played by Hasselbaink. But this is no simple love story. Waldemar, a black man, has come to Holland from Suriname to go to college. He meets Rika, who is 17 years his senior, and she takes him in as a tenant after she has left her husband and the maid with whom her husband cheated.
Based on a novel written by Annejet van der Zijl, which tells the entirely true story of the parents of a man named Waldy Nods, the film is not a work of fiction. Waldy’s son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters were in attendance of the U.S. premiere. According to his son, Waldy is still alive today and is in reasonably good health.
The film is just over two hours long, and is more emotionally draining than I could have possibly predicted. It explores probably every controversial idea in existence: racial discrimination, abortion, fear, love, hope, religious discrimination (it deals with the Holocaust), morality in general, and more. I am not one who typically cries at movies, and I found myself very nearly in tears (I would’ve been in tears had I not been in a public place and holding them back).
If the ups and downs of the plot line of this film were charted, the result would be a diagram closely resembling one portraying an erratic human heart rate. It plays with the emotions of its audience as a cat plays with toy mice, carelessly tossing them around and leaving them to deal with the mess that they are left in. But none of this is negative.
The film is beautiful. It is about struggle, but it is also about hope. Rika is in a concentration camp, squatting on the cold ground in the middle of a pouring rain, and she sees nothing but hope. She sees hope in the rain because it brings her back to the time when she would dance in the rain with her children and Waldemar. She remembers the time when she and her children would play outside in blue and white clothing with pinstripes or polka dots. She sees hope because she knows that things can only get better, and she wholeheartedly believes that they will.
Some may think that she is simply delusional. After all, she sees hope that is not actually there, and she ends up losing the fight; but I think the hope that she sees is beautiful, and that most of us could use a little bit more of it. Hope and faith may be delusions, but so what if they are? We have to believe in something.
Maria Peters, the director of the film, was kind enough to sit down to speak with me at the premiere’s after-party. I asked her what exactly she would say that the film is about, and she said that it is a film about love. She said that it is a film about the love that the male and female leads share, and the manifestation of that love in their son, who lives to prove that love conquers all. To her, all of the other elements are simply things that get in the way of that love and that their love overcomes. She said that it is about not physical love, but emotional love. But, she did concede, saying that there is one thing that is stronger than their love for each other: war. Though the two do everything in their power to keep their love alive, they have no control over the war, and (sorry to give away the ending here…) they fall. Their son Waldy, however, lives on. For this reason, Peters tells people that the story is not entirely sad in premise.
The author of the book said in a question-and-answer period after the film that she feels that the disappointing ending is not a disappointment.
“The fact that something is being told makes things right,” she said, emphasizing the fact that the story shares a piece of history, and that she would not be able to justify a plot change to create the stereotypical “happy ending.”
I had the pleasure of talking to Waldy’s granddaughters about what it’s like for them to see their family history on the big screen, especially in lieu of the rather depressing ending. According to his granddaughters, 17-year-old Doranne Nods and 15-year-old Pien Nods, Waldy had a difficult time watching the film. After all, he was fundamentally watching the story of his parents’ death. The girls told me that it was easier for him to deal with the novel, which he could put down when the memories and ideas became too intense; but the movie can’t be stopped, and it’s visual.
I also had the opportunity to speak to Hasselbaink, the male lead. He told me that this was his first film, and that he is now working on two other projects in Holland. He is currently a part of both an action movie and a zombie movie — each a far stretch from Sonny Boy.
I honestly cannot say enough positive aspects of the night as a whole. Having the opportunity to see Sonny Boy in an audience with some of its cast members and director, as well as the author of the novel that it is based upon and the family members upon whose family the story is based, reminded me just how lucky I am to have the chance to do this job.