Black Book

Starring: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman and Halina Reijn
Tartan Video
RRP: 29.99
Certificate: 15
Available 24 September 2007

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 Flesh and Blood (1985), De Vierde Man (The 4th Man 1983) and Keetje Tippel (1975).

The DVD version has already been on the shelves for some time, so why contemplate buying the Blu-ray? In a word, quality. The transition to a high definition version has to be seen to be believed. With six times more picture quality than a DVD the colours are more vibrant, the detail stunning. After this, watching the DVD is a bit like watching your old VHS tapes once you've seen what Blu-ray can do for a film.

However, what's even more impressive is that Tartan have also made the very sensible decision to package each Blu-ray with its equivalent DVD, so if your still saving for a player then you can watch the DVD until your new toy arrives.

Although the technology is still in its relative infancy - and there is still a format war, which can only hurt both camps, going on with Blu-ray and HD formats - for a true lover of films the extra level of detail and the uncompressed audio is a god send.

Black Book remains as impressive on the second watch as it was when I reviewed the DVD. The movie does what Pearl Harbour could not; inject a new lease of life into the war film genre. Carice van Houton is mesmerising on the screen, her portrayal of Rachel faultless. Ok, so you have to suspend disbelief that a Jewish woman would fall in love with a member of the regime that wiped out her whole family, but is you can get past this then her relationship with Muntze is at the same time touching and tragic.

Muntze, himself is an affable Nazi, trying to negotiate a truce with the resistance, having realised that the war is all but lost. Like the character of Rachel, we are asked to ignore Muntze's presumed previous actions against the Dutch people in order to make him a more acceptable character. Verhoeven even throws in Muntz's dead family to garner sympathy from both Rachel and the audience.

One of the great characters in the film is the seemingly, always sweaty and more than slightly porcine Gunther played by Waldemar Kobus, who embodies all the irredeemable qualities associated with movie Nazi's with such gusto, that he quickly becomes a character you will love to hate.

One of the problems of such a new format is the extras which are usually only up to DVD quality and this remains the same with Black Book. Tartan has cleverly gotten around this limitation by placing the three in windows, so as not to shock the poor audience with the quality of their DVD collection.

If you have a Blu-ray player, or intend to buy one, investing in Tartan's Black Book is a no brainer, great film, great quality, a format that beats DVD hands down.

Charles Packer

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