Whilst trying to flee Holland in 1944 Rachel Stein, a Jewish
singer, and her family fall foul of the German occupational
forces. Her family is killed and Rachel has to go into hiding.
She is eventually recruited into the Dutch resistance and
uses her, not inconsiderable, charms to seduce and sleep with
Ludwig Muntze, a local SS officer. Although Rachel's dyed
hair disguises her lineage, Muntze quickly discovers the ploy,
but by that time the two are lovers for real. Overcoming prejudices
of race and creed, Muntze uses his power to protect Rachel,
but it's a protection which marks them both out for death...
Black Book (Zwartboek 2006) is the latest movie
from director Paul Verhoeven and is written in collaboration
with Gerard Soeteman, who has worked mainly in Dutch film
and television. Verhoeven and Soeteman collaborated extensively
in the mid seventies and eighties on films including as Flesh
and Blood (1985), De Vierde Man (The 4th Man
1983) and Keetje Tippel (1975).
Black Book was very well received, winning numerous awards
- though as this is such a recent film it's bound to receive
a few more. At seventeen million Euros it also holds the record
for the most expensive Dutch film ever.
who is linking such a large amount of money with Verhoeven's
name and expecting a CGI extravaganza on par with his Hollow
Man (2000), Starship Troopers (1997) or RoboCop
(1987) is going to be sorely disappointed. Like most Verhoeven
films there is an exploration and depiction of sexuality,
though not to the level of Basic Instinct (1992) or
Showgirls (1995). The film most closely resembles Verhoeven's
own Soldaat van Oranje (1977), which also examined
the effects of the Nazi invasion of Holland. There is spectacle
to be had, but at the heart of it is a much more personal
film about the grey areas which war creates.
is not an easy film to watch, as it examines the relationship
between Rachel (Carice van Houten) and Ludwig Muntze (Sebastian
Koch), one a Jewish girl working against the people who have
slaughtered not only her family, but pretty much anyone who
had tried to help her, and Muntze, an SS officer. It's a big
hurdle to get over; that Rachel could move past the presumed
hatred she had for everything German to fall in love with
Muntze. But then this is the central exploration of the film.
loves to have their good guys in one box, far away from the
bad guys in the other, but that's not really what happens.
Collaboration in war is as much about love as it is the search
for personal power or protection. Both van Houten and Koch
are simply magnificent in this film, with performances that
drag you by your nose past any problems of motivation. A less
well-crafted film would have the couple walking off into the
sunlight at the end; Verhoeven takes a more realistic viewpoint
where actions continue to have consequences. So for Rachel
and Muntze the end of the film is not the end of the danger.
This takes you to the end of the film, which in its own way
is both hopeful and sad. I won't spoil it by giving it away.
The film is presented in 2:35.1 aspect ratio with a nice selection
of audio options of either stereo, 5.1 or DTS with subtitles.
There is a nice selection of extras, with film notes, the
original trailer and an interview with the director and the
the film has all the Verhoeven hallmarks of stylishness and
sexuality with a sympathetic look at the complications that
war can bring to the human condition. And if that was not
enough to whet your appetite it,s also one of the best war
films produced for years.