Since I have been on an Amazon Prime medieval movie kick, lately, I decided to switch things up a notch by watching a film set during the Early Modern period. Enter Storm and Luther’s Forbidden Letters.
Released just last year in 2017, the film is a period piece during The Reformation. It follows 12-year-old Storm Voeten as he finds himself in a race against time to save his father from the blood-thirsty inquisitor hell-bent on purging the city on Protestant influence. Narratively, the story is simple: Storm’s father, Klaas, is a printer by trade and is paid to print a letter by Luther. Unfortunately, he and the uppity Protestant cell is discovered; Klaas is imprisoned while Storm takes the original frame for the letter and runs underground. There, he befriends a young girl named Marieke who makes her living as a thief stealing what she can in preparation for the day when her father returns. Together, the two form a duo that will lead to the overthrow of the inquisition. Impressive!
Beat by beat, it is a conventional action-drama film. It is obviously geared toward younger audiences and though I would normally shriek at such films, due to their usual tendency to become too overbearing in their censorship, I found myself doing the opposite here; why? Because the film is excellent. The cinematography, acting, music, costumes, it is all wonderfully done.
True, the story is aggressively ordinary. We have all seen the story of a mismatched couple find love in a dire situation. Seriously, if you want this story done better, just watch Disney’s Aladdin. That being said, how it unfolds the narrative, is smart and the strength of the film is in how the atmosphere works to its advantage in conveying the period and danger.
What I mean by this is that Storm got the details right. Our young protagonist, for example, is a printer’s son and so can read and write. Now, what a lot of movies get wrong is that this is no small thing; remember, back during the early modern period—as well as during the medieval and classical periods—reading and writing were skilled trades. You had to go to school and learn these skills and since school was not considered a common good back then—and still isn’t really now, per se, but is at least greatly accessible thanks to public schooling—the result was that hardly anyone knew how to read and write. Storm gets this detail correct by at least displaying the gravity associated with reading and writing—it can, literally, start a revolution.
Over the course of the film, not only is reading and writing seen as a skilled practice, something, perhaps, akin to computer programming today, but it is associated with struggle. With technical skills required to not only read but set up the printing presses, books burning becomes not merely a historical quirk as it is all too often reified today, but a violent reality of living under an authoritarian regime.
Other than details like this, the film makes up for its simple narrative by variety. Over the course its hundred-odd minutes, you will see secret meetings, youth radicalization, sewer chases, a brief cross-dressing scene, theology commodification (“Indulgences”), dramatic fights, betrayal, and even an uprising. And because all of this is fused with an attention to detail, all of it feels focused on the period, like it is true to the history.
Theologically, Storm presents itself as a Christian film, one that is unambiguously Protestant. Even though I am not a Christian myself, I can safely say that the theology of the film is indirect; the avowed Protestantism of the movie expresses itself via iconoclasm—specifically of the anti-Mary statues—as well as through the defense of Martin Luther. Other than that, this is not a Christian film preoccupied with preaching and converting. I might even go as far to say that this isn’t even a “Christian” film if that if your criteria of delineation for what makes a Christian film Christian. Storm, then, is very much a “mainstream” movie with Christian elements.
Whether you think this is a positive for the film or a negative, I found myself enjoying Storm.
That being said, this is not to say that Storm didn’t have its missteps. Because it did. The most noticeable being in the final act when Storm and Marieke fight. It is sudden and misplaced and feels far too forced. Then, there are loose thematic threads like Storm’s young male friend from the beginning; we see him at the start of the film stealing an apple but nothing more is said of him after that point. I feel he was supposed to be a larger element of the story, and likely a piece meant to symbolize Storm’s own moral relationship to worldly deeds, but he gets dropped and never mentioned again within the first act. Ultimately, I feel that the film could have used another solid 30 or 40 minutes of content to flesh out themes and sub-plots. Had the director, Dennis Bots, put a tad more effort in giving the characters the time they needed to evolve naturally, I feel that the finished product would have felt much more refreshing.
In the end, Storm is fine family film. And even though I rolled my eyes at how even during a period piece, the ending was yet another stale, heteronormative, middle-class fairy tale, I loved its charm. All though Storm’s modern influences can plainly be seen, it does them well without being hugely overbearing. Considering some of the lowest slime that I have seen while making these little-known reviews, I will gladly give this film my approval.