As an up-and-coming filmmaker, Jarom Lürsen never wanted to make a World War II movie. A preponderance of those stories have already been told, after all. But when a monument was made for someone no one really knew about in his home country of the Netherlands, Lürsen found himself drawn to the little-known tale.
“He was a hero that was always hidden,” Lürsen told TheWrap’s Steve Pond at a Q&A on Tuesday following a screening of his film “The Resistance Banker,” the Netherlands entry in the Oscar foreign film race and this year’s winner of four Golden Calves — the equivalent of the Oscars in the Netherlands — including best film and best actor.
As the title suggests, “The Resistance Banker” tells the story of an upper-class banker who, with his brother, helps finance the resistance against Germany in the Netherlands by risking their careers and livelihoods to start a secret bank. Walraven van Hall (Barry Atsma) plays the brother, husband and father of two who first decides to help the resistance, building a team to forge bonds that will be turned in for money to help Jewish people fearful of deportation and protestors fearful of going broke. Actor Jacob Derwig plays Walraven’s brother, Gijs.
Lürsen told the audience at the Landmark Theater in Los Angeles that the van Halls didn’t help the resistance because they were Jewish. In fact, they weren’t Jewish at all and could have easily fled to England if they wanted to. But instead, the van Halls felt they were in the best position to help their fellow people.
“[Walraven] starts out resisting the resistance,” Lürsen said. “In the end, he becomes the spider in the web of the whole resistance.”
In fact, Walraven would become so interwoven in the resistance that he ended up going by five different code names with almost no one knowing his true identity, according to Lürsen. While this is not exactly what is depicted in the final Netflix-acquired film — Walraven goes by van Tuyl to conceal his identity — Lürsen and the producers of the film made sure to reach out to the descendants of the van Halls to get the story as accurate as possible.
Initially the van Hall family was hesitant about agreeing to help the film, fearing it would turn into a “big action movie.”
“Our fathers never had guns,” Lürsen said the van Halls had told him.
Lürsen assured them the story would focus on two things: First, it would be a story following the emotional relationship between brothers. Second, it would try to depict the “biggest bank robbery in Dutch history” in a way that paid tribute but also stayed honest about what actually happened.
One of the ways the production stayed honest was filming scenes in locations as similar to the ones during the actual time period as possible. For example, the bank they are seen robbing in the film is the actual one they robbed 70-some years ago. The shooting schedule was rigorous in part due to their precise filming locations. Lürsen confessed the production traversed 18 different cities in 36 days across the Netherlands and Belgium, often needing to stop heavy traffic just to get one shot off.
But the work required was worth it. Now that the monument commemorating Walraven was erected across from the Dutch State Bank in 2010, there is a living memorial of his effort depicted in the film. Lürsen said the van Halls invited 300 of their family members to watch the film for a special screening when the movie opened. Afterward, Lürsen heard three words the assured him it was all worth it.
“Now, you’re family,” they told him.