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(Zwartboek) (Germany/Dutch)

  Publicity Stills of
"Black Book"
(Courtesy from Cathay-Keris Films)

Genre: War/Thriller
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Carice Van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint
RunTime: 2 hrs 25 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes & Violence)
Official Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/blackbook/

Opening Day: 22 May 2008


To fight the enemy, she must become one of them. Holland 1944 - the final years of WWII finds the beautiful singer Rachel Stein taking refuge with a family in rural Holland. Once a popular and wealthy singer, Rachel has been waiting out the war like many Jews in Europe, separated from her family and a moment away from being caught by the Gestapo. In a chain of events, Rachel loses her family and pushed by vengence, and survival, she joins the Dutch resistance forces. Changing her identity to Ellis, she seduces a high ranking German officer to gain his trust and access to the regime's classified information. However along the way she uncovers trails of deceit and deception pointing to compatriots she once counted as her closest friends.

Movie Review:

Only Paul Verhoeven could make another WWII film seem so fresh, audacious and altogether exhilarating by throwing in a strong religious subtext, simmering vulgarity, high-wire espionage and an unsparingly transgressive moral compass in which the Nazis weren’t the only arseholes left in the war. But it’s even more remarkable that Verhoeven, without missing a beat, vigorously fits in his brand of bold meta-satire and subversive political thought (by way of his “Starship Troopers” allegory being retooled) into a tightly written and highly toned script. The director’s tenacious motif is his hilariously hyper-extended, overplayed melodramatics and luminously lit men and women – hungering with sexual evocation – filtered through the complexities of a ethical grey area visualised through nebulous clouds of cigarette smoke. The film adheres towards several key components, but coheres around one theme: Verhoeven has Old Hollywood in his sights.

The relative, tenuous calm of Israel in 1956 is captured as a tour bus pulls up to witness the quaintness of a kibbutz but gives way to a surprising reunion between wartime chums. A flashback beckons as a distressed Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) proceeds to sit by a body of water and remember her life as a chanteuse called Ellis de Vries back in Holland, 1944-1945. With a family butchered in cold blood by a SS swine, Rachel joins the Resistance against the Nazis. Her natural good looks, the talent for both song and deceit inform the decision to send her deep into enemy regime, seducing a handsome and sensitive Gestapo up-and-comer (Sebastian Koch) and retrieve secrets vital to the reclamation of the homeland. This could be easily retitled “Lust, Caution”, if it weren’t for the film’s voluptuously photographed and energetic direction of being a sobering thrill-a-minute, briskly paced actioner, more focused on its dramatic reversals of fortunes than it is about the genre’s predilection for the elevation of its us-versus-them narratives and its inherent gravitas.

Like Verhoeven’s greatest films, the female soma, inclusive of its complicated psyche and prevailing impulses, form the centrepiece of his film. And in “Black Book”, van Houten as Rachel glows incandescent like a genuine Hollywood heroine, a classically beautiful movie starlet – an arresting Jean Harlow impersonate – playing her assigned role as Aryan siren to sleek perfection with the profound sadness of an identity implicitly becoming lost. But Rachel/Ellis is a creature of intense fortitude. Her instincts are sure and steadfast, traversing distances with dauntless reach, a woman of innate elegance and of the vicissitudes that come with suppressed desire. These fierce motivations and fully cognisant volition are incited by the inner rebellions formed as a Jewish femme in wartime Holland, caught in the middle of Nazi oppression and the Christian puritans (“if only the Jews had just listened to Jesus”) she takes shelter with as she’s forced to hold a Bible for meals or the matter-of-fact abuses she takes on the chin when the leader of the Resistance remarks, "When is a Jew's life worth more than a good Dutchman?”

An intuitive provocateur, Verhoeven charts the morass though prurient sexual encounters and base survival instincts while gleefully chafing the absurdly graphic with the warm humanism buried in his more outrageous oeuvre. The modulation between a tasteful recreation of the period and a modernist take on genre conventions by feeding off its own historical context provides the centrifugal force of the film’s queries into the roles of liberators, oppressors and other postwar manifestos.

Movie Rating:

(Easily Paul Verhoeven’s most enjoyable and breezily entertaining films in years)

Review by Justin Deimen


. Lust Caution (2007)

. Days of Glory (2006)

. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

. Flags of our Fathers (2006)

. The Great Raid (2005)

. Munich (2005)

. Brotherhood (2004)


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