Thomas van der Ree was the screenwriter for the film The Resistance Banker. This film is about the fearless nature in two brothers that changed the course of history in the Dutch society. Ree discusses the personalities of the brothers and Dutch society.
ATM: What does this film signify about the Netherlands?
TV: This is a pretty big question. I was born in the 80s, but I know my grandparents lived through this period. This is the same for a lot of people in my generation. They have always made war movies. This is a little joke in our film industry. I felt special about this story because these were people who did not start as resistant fighters. They were Jewish and well off. They could have easily cruised through the whole war with no problem for themselves and their families. They could not live with what was happening. It was their idealism that made them do what they did. There were no external factors. This was for a lot of Dutch people and me. It was inspiring to do something for people who were in trouble even if it was not in your best interest. This is something we added to it, so people can see how they lived during these days.
ATM: What could you observe about the shared brotherhood between the two brothers?
TV: They were mostly on the same side — the struggles between them; we had to add to the movie. We wanted to explain and add a drama in their relationship. Walraven does not have an arc. He is laid back. He has one in a way to make you think he has one. If you look at it, then it seems he makes everything bent by a force of will. We wanted to show what this means by having his brother Gijs be more hesitant about the whole thing. This is a dramatic license because they were pretty much on the same side their whole life. We felt this would end the whole message of the resistance.
ATM: All around the world there has been groups and organizations who have formed a resistance. They formed a resistance on things they did not agree within their society. From doing research and watching the movie, I can understand why the brothers formed it. It comes a time when you see a problem, and you want to fix it. It takes a courageous, bold, and fearless person to do it. When you do this, anything can happen to you. You are putting your life on the line.
TV: This is true. It showed what he did with his life. He did pay the ultimate price for his ideas. This is something it would be relatable from other countries who did not know anything about the war. We hoped it would be universal like this.
ATM: In your writing style, what personality do you want any of the brothers to have? How did you want the audience to connect with him?
TV: I wanted them to connect with both, but more through the brother who lived. This was the way of the story and the way to see the risk of what he is doing. We went more for the suspenseful moments. We felt the audience would connect more with someone who was afraid as much as the audience would be.
ATM: For so long Amsterdam was the center of trading. Primarily during the 20th century, they were extremely popular. Most of their trading happened on Hague Street. This is where all of the government buildings are held.
TV: This goes back to the Golden Ages in the Netherlands during 1600. We were a very small country, but at a very small time, we ruled the world in terms of colonizing the world. This is such a problematic era of our history. The mentality of being small is very powerful. It reached all throughout and to the present day. Walraven lived in New York and ships all over the world. He had traveled everywhere at this point. Maybe it is a part of our Dutch mentality in going everywhere around the world and being small but crucial. This made it extra hard when the Germans invaded us.
ATM: What can you reflect on Dutch culture?
TV: This is a good question. We are very straightforward people. We have a business mentality. We have a Calvinistic religion. We are strict and by the rules. We trade money. This has been a part of Dutch culture for centuries. I am not sure if I have any opinion about it because it is in me too. It is something I take with me with whatever I write — for example, The Resistance Banker.
ATM: Did you say Calvinism?
TV: Yes, this is the whole religion aspect of the Netherlands. This is not something I grew up with. This is something that is in our mentality. Even when you are a god-fearing Calvinist, then you can still make a lot of money and feel happy about this. This is what we did a lot of times.
ATM: Where in the film do you see the beliefs that derive from Calvinism?
TV: You can see it most in the character Gijs, who was trying to keep his head down. He does not try to make waves with the Germans. If it were up to Gijs, then he would have just kept his head down. There is a lot of people who did not do what they did. There is a scene on the train. The train stopped, and there is another train with a lot of Jewish people who are being deported to their camps. You see a lot of people silent and not liking it, but they are not doing anything. It is in these moments where I see it.
ATM: How much is religion valued in Dutch society?
TV: It is not a big factor. Right now, it is not a big thing we talk about. There are only less and fewer people going to whatever church in the Netherlands. It is not something that is taught like in past days. It stays behind the way of how our country is built.
ATM: In this film, there are beliefs of the Calvinist religion that are in this film. Also, in the American society religion is very much valued. There are a vast majority of religions in my society. Christianity is the dominant factor in different communities. It is also intertwined in our government from the beginning of time.
TV: Yes. I do think there is a big difference. In my country, it is not tied up to the government the way it is in the United States. We have some religious, political parties. Some people go to church and vote for the political parties. It is not comparable to the United States in any way. Maybe it has always been a difference. In the past ten years, it has been two separate things.
ATM: What is a government like that does not heavily implement religion?
TV: Well, this is the only one I know. It is hard for me to compare it. For me, it is something that has always been like this. There is a lot of them. We do not have two parties. This is good in one way. There is no dichotomy like in the States. There are also problems, and you must work together. There is a word term, which means everyone has to work together for the common good. This is something that will happen when you have a lot of political parties. This is a big difference in our countries.
ATM: How prolific and valuable are screenwriters in the Netherlands?
TV: It is a small country and film industry is smaller. There is not a lot of us. Everyone knows everybody. If I were to go to States and tell someone and tell them I am a screenwriter, then there would be millions of them. Here people want to know what it is you do. It is more exotic because it is a small film industry. We have the same problems you have with working with producers and directors. The T.V networks are very important in our industry on a smaller scale. This film cost about four million euros. This is a big movie. This is probably the same as an American television show in terms of budget. We want to do a lot of the same stuff that big budgets do, but we do have less money to work with. It is only possible with less money because it is harder. A lot of the streets and costumes do not exist anymore. We have to make it work. This is what I mean by having the same problems in terms of budget, but our budgets are smaller.
ATM: What do you mean they do not exist anymore?
TV: This film takes place in Amsterdam. It was shot all over Holland and Belgium. If you go into Amsterdam, then it does not look like that anymore. We had to find streets or alleys that still look like they did in the 40s. This is getting harder every day.
ATM: What is the polarity of what they look like now vs. in the 40s?
TV: Wow. There is a lot of things. I do not even know where to being. There is a lot of more modern streets and signs. The buildings are not there like in the 40s. The T.V antennas. Everything that was invented since the 40s is in the streets. If you want to find streets that are particularly like they do then, then you have to look all over. It was hard scouting locations. There had to be a lot of stuff that had to be painted out in the visual effects. The height of buildings had to be adjusted. So, you could see a modern shopping mall and the background. So, you can make it feel like these days.
ATM: This is good. I did not notice the cover-ups and what was not real. I am not from the Netherlands, so I was not aware of what was real or added. The team did a great job. In some films, you can tell, and it is reflected because of the budget.
ATM: What is taught in the Dutch education in terms of the Resistance and in general in the history courses?
TV: The school teaches about it. I wrote another movie that deals with this same time period. It is not a war movie. This is also on Netflix. This was about war criminals. This is stuff that is not taught. Apart from the resistant fighting, there was a lot of collaborating with the enemy, with the Germans. There was a lot of help that they got from the police, especially in Amsterdam. This was to get all the Jewish people from the capital. This stuff is not generally taught. It is not covered up, but it is not taught. In another movie, I mentioned, this was something we wanted to shop. In the Resistance Banker, the heroes like Waly is part of the movie which was around during these days. The reason I wrote both movies was that I did not want any overlap between them. They could not be more different in terms of their main characters.
ATM: These similarities are?
TV: They lived in the same city and knew a lot of the same people. They were dealing with a lot of the same German soldiers. One guy was a gangster before the war started and decided to make a lot of money out of betraying Jewish people. The other in another movie wanted to fight these types of guys. He became a hero but died. The other guy who was a war criminal ended up surviving.
ATM: When someone goes against the traditional norms, I would assume they find a realization with themselves about the future of it. The future of it can be death. This is seen a lot of in your society and my American society. So, fearless people, I believe at some point come to terms that they will die because of what they are fighting for. They have to. They are risking their lives for the betterment of their society and environment. Either suspiciously you will die, the government will kill you, or you die. This is not even an American thing, but a global thing.
TV: You are right. This was the reason we wanted to show this. It is sad but also inspiring. It is interesting to watch a war criminal, and it is also inspiring to watch someone who believes in an idea so strongly, that he would even risk his life for it. If you research about them, then there is nothing to be said against him. He is a genuine hero. A lot of historical people if you dig deep enough, then you will find something that is not quite heroic. There was not anything in this case. Everyone liked him. He did the right thing and helped a lot of people. He was shot for it.