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  3. "Wil" was shot in Wroclaw and in Lower Silesia. Now you can watch it on Netflix
Trucks of the film crew in front of the palace of the Wallenberg-Pachaly family; in the circle, there is the main character of Will played by Stef Aerts wroclaw.pl, Krzysztof Wiktor
Trucks of the film crew in front of the palace of the Wallenberg-Pachaly family; in the circle, there is the main character of Will played by Stef Aerts

The Belgian film Will [original title: Wil] directed by Tim Mielants is already available on Netflix. The dark war drama is based on a locally popular book by Belgian writer Jeroen Olyslaegers, and the main character Wilfred Wils, a rookie policeman, is forced to make tragic decisions during World War II. The streets and palaces of Wroclaw play Antwerp in the film, and the shooting was also done in Legnica and Jaworzyna Śląska. Read the review and see photos.

Wil – a policeman from Antwerp in the darkness of World War II

At the end of Joseph Conrad’s short story Heart of Darkness (brilliantly transferred to the screen by Francis Ford Coppola in "Apocalypse Now"), one of the characters, Kurtz, speaks significant words: "The horror! The horror!" They may be a confession of guilt by Kurtz, who killed and humiliated people. But they are also a comment to the darkness that consumes the civilised man. In Coppola’s film, the darkness is the war, which triggers the worst instincts and appetites.

Also in Tim Mielants’s film, an honest young promising man is affected by the darkness of war. The main character of Wil, a rookie policeman Wilfred Wils (ingenious Stef Aerts), is to maintain order in German-occupied Antwerp along with another novice Lode Metdepenningen (Matteo Simoni). Formally, they are mediators between compatriots and occupants. Informally, they have to watch in silence how the invaders abuse their power.

Already on the first day of their joint service, they have to confront the brutal reality. An accidentally met feldgendarme (a German soldier with a gorget hanging on a chain on the neck) forces both men to accompany him as an escort in plundering a Jewish apartment and an attempt to swindle money from tenants.

The night ends tragically, which will have an impact on all further events in the life of both Antwerp policemen and people related to them, including Lode’s sister Yvette, a brave member of the resistance movement, who is fascinated with Wilfred.

A dark story of a frightened man

What makes this film different from many other war stories? Entangled in the events for which he is mentally and emotionally unprepared, the main character reacts with fear, which is a natural response. Another thing is what he will do in order to survive by all means, even at the price of honour, shame or decency. He will become a coward, a man without qualities.

If the war had not broken out, Wil would presumably be a painter (fellow policemen are impressed by his sketches, and he also receives painting orders from his father’s friend collaborating with the Germans), would be wooing a girl and would slowly go up in the police hierarchy.  But war enforces a different code of behaviour, concrete actions, taking risk without any guarantee of success, acting under pressure and putting trust in strangers. The war forces the main character to be mature and decide whom to sacrifice and whom to protect.

On the one hand, he becomes a puppet in the hands of the collaborator he knows, one of the ringleaders of the nationalist militia and a thief of Jewish property. On the other hand, he engages in the resistance movement and tries to behave with dignity, but this is not enough. Fear or maybe even cowardice helps to survive, and the price is the loss of honour and face.

"Conscience is a luxury", shouts Wil to his friend in one of the crucial scenes. Is it really so? The fact remains that the main character resembles many contemporary men who escape responsibility and uncomfortable decisions. Stef Aerst, a rising Belgian cinema star, plays Wil with incredible sensitivity; we can feel his indecision and emotional and moral instability.

Tim Mielants’s atmospheric film

The film by Tim Mielants, known to international spectators as the director of episodes of popular and recognised TV series ("Peaky Blinders", "The Terror", or, most recently, "The Responder" starring Martin Freeman), is a stirring study of a man entangled in the horror of war who simply wants to survive.

The atmosphere of the film is built by great shots by Robrecht Heyvaert, the exemplary selection of interiors and landscapes by scenographer Bart Van Loo, as well as costumes (Valerie Le Roy, Charlotte Willems) – naturalism has been preserved, and we feel as if we were watching old newsreels.

Wroclaw streets and interiors in Wil

In Wroclaw, the film crew worked in the palace of the Wallenberg-Pachaly family at Szajnochy Street (its interiors played a police station in Antwerp, and the patio served as a background for one of the most important scenes), on Szajnochy Street itself and near the intersection of Jagiellończyka and Niemcewicza streets (the square in front of the police station).

Legnica, Jaworzyna Śląska – filmmakers from Belgium worked also here

Shots for the film were made also in Legnica (the frame captures the old seat of the Gestapo at Daszyńskiego, or houses at Zakaczawie, out of which Jews are thrown at night in the film) and in Jaworzyna Śląska.

Originally, shots involving trains were to be produced digitally, but the Polish side proposed that they be made in the Railway Museum in Jaworzyna Śląska. This turned out to be an ideal solution, and the night shots providing a strong finish to Will owe their atmosphere to Lower Silesian locations.  

Where to watch Wil

The film directed by Tim Mielants is available on Netflix. The original Belgian title is Wil, but we recommend entering "Will" in the search engine.

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