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Film / The Assault

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The Assault (De aanslag) is a 1986 film from The Netherlands, directed by Fons Rademakers and based on the novel of the same name by Harry Mulisch.

The film opens in January 1945, in Haarlem, The Netherlands. Holland, still occupied by the Germans, is suffering through the "Hunger Winter" in the closing days of World War II. The placid family life of the Steenwijk family is destroyed in an instant when a Dutch Nazi collaborator, Ploeg, is shot down in the street. In fact Ploeg is killed in front of their neighbors' house, but the neighbors drag the corpse over in front of the Steenwijk house. German police swarm onto the street. Mr. and Mrs. Steenwijk are arrested and never seen again; they were taken and shot by the Germans as reprisals. Older son Peter Steenwijk disappears; he is later revealed to have been shot minutes later in the neighbors' house.

Left alone is 12-year-old Anton, the younger son. Anton is arrested but in an uncharacteristic show of mercy, the Germans release him into the custody of his uncle. Liberation comes four months later. Anton goes to school and grows to adulthood (adult Anton is played by Derek de Lint). Years pass by as Anton goes to medical school and becomes an anesthesiologist. The Cold War unfolds as Anton gets married, has a daughter, gets divorced, gets married again and has a son. Decades roll by, forty years as Anton ages from a pre-teen into a prosperous man in his early 50s...but still he is haunted by the past and the memory of the night his family was destroyed.


  • Bilingual Bonus: The Dutch word for "dice" actually translates directly into English as "dicing stone" (dobbelsteen). The various moments of coincidence and chance in the film are always associated with stones. When Fake (pronounced "Fah-kay") Ploeg stumbles into Anton's apartment building he's carrying a brick (it's in the middle of a riot in the street). Anton meets his first wife while seeing the Stone of Scone in London.
  • Call-Back
    • Right before their life is destroyed, Anton's mom puts a clove in her mouth to relieve the pain from a toothache. Forty years later, as Anton is about to go to the dentist, his wife tells him the same thing.
    • A bitter, angry Fake Ploeg rants about how people like Anton got to go to medical school, while the stigma of being a collaborator's son forced him to drop out of school, and he's stuck working as a plumber. Near the end Anton sees two different vans labeled "FAKE PLOEG" pull up in front of a street; it seems his old classmate has a thriving plumbing business.
  • Chalk Outline: Imagined by Anton, when he comes back to the spot of his former home seven years later, and visualizes where Ploeg's body fell.
  • Contrived Coincidence
    • Who stumbles out of a violent crowd and into the doorway of the building where Anton lives in Amsterdam? None other than Fake Ploeg, son of the man who was murdered on Anton's street in Haarlem 11 years before.
    • Whom does Anton meet at a funeral in the 1960s, Gijs Takes, the man who shot Ploeg.
    • Who runs into Anton at an anti-nuke march in Amsterdam in the 1980s? Karin, his neighbor in Haarlem in 1945.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Ploeg, member of the Dutch Nazi Party, shot down by La RĂ©sistance on the street where the Steenwijks live, with devastating consequences for their family.
  • Flashback: A series of flashbacks shows more details about "the assault" in 1945 as Anton learns more about what happened, from the perspective of Takes, his neighbors the Beumers, and his neighbor Karin Korteweg.
  • Flyaway Shot: Ends with a flyaway shot as the camera cranes up into space, losing Anton and his son in the crowd at the anti-nuke rally in 1986.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: A hearbeat soundtrack is briefly heard when the woman in the jail cell, herself seriously wounded but still concerned with little Anton, draws him to her and hugs him.
  • Identical Stranger: The saboteur in the prison cell with Anton, Truus Coster, and Anton's first wife Saskia, are played by the same actress (Monique van de Ven).
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used with some of the still photos that accompany Time Skips, like with photos of anti-Soviet protests in 1956 Holland, and anti-government protests in 1960.
  • Last Breath Bullet: The reason why Truus was caught and eventually executed by the Germans. Takes shoots Ploeg three times. Then Truus walks up and shoots Ploeg two more times while he's on the ground. But with five bullets in him, Ploeg has enough life left to raise his gun and shoot Truus before he croaks. She doesn't die but the gunshot wound makes her unable to run away, and she's caught.
  • Narrator: Occasionally a narrator gives some exposition to fill in gaps in the narrative, like telling the audience that Anton became an anesthesiologist, or that he got married again.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Fake's angry rant about being tainted as the son of a collaborator ends with him using a brick to smash his reflection in Anton's mirror.
  • La RĂ©sistance: They assassinate Ploeg the collaborator. Later Gijs Takes, the resistance fighter who organized the murder, tells Anton about how bad a guy Ploeg was and how he liked to torture people.
  • Stock Footage: Used for Time Skip segments demonstrating the passing of the years, starting with Canadian troops liberating Amsterdam in 1945, then the Korean War, the Cold War, Vietnam, and other events of the world over a period of forty years.
  • Stocking Filler: 12-year-old Anton's attention is drawn when he sees his neighbor, Karin, rolling stockings up her smooth legs.
  • Title Drop: The murder of Ploeg is referred to as "the assault" more than once.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The role of random chance in determining fate is symbolized when Ploeg's murder interrupts the Steenwijks as they are sitting down to play a board game. As Anton is grabbed by the Dutch police and arrested, he realizes he still has a die in his hand. Later, Takes dismisses "what if" counterfactuals, saying that people are killed by the people who kill them, and if he'd shot down Ploeg on a different street, he'd be having that conversation with someone else and not Anton.