Black Book (15)

Film

War films

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Time Out says

Thu Oct 19 2006

In our earliest glimpse of Rachel (Carice van Houten), the Jewish heroine of ‘Black Book’, she is being called for breakfast. ‘If the Jews had listened to Jesus,’ grumbles the father of the Dutch family sheltering her, ‘they wouldn’t be in such a mess now.’ It is September, 1944. Rachel drizzles a crucifix of jam into her porridge, smiles ingratiatingly, and vigorously stirs.

Vigorous stirring is Paul Verhoeven’s stock-in-trade. As the Netherlands’ most successful filmmaker of the ’70s and ’80s, he alienated critics and funders with his frank treatment of aggression, libido and ethical equivocacy. Following his move to America, his use of sex and violence in the likes of ‘Robocop’, ‘Basic Instinct’ and ‘Showgirls’ prompted further consternation, now compounded by his willingness to play as fast and loose with expectations of genre as he always had with character and narrative; ‘Starship Troopers’, for instance, was accused of promoting the very fascistic tendencies it satirised. Uniquely, Verhoeven makes populist films that challenge audiences to keep their distance – to acknowledge that the character with the most lines might not be a nice person, that plot can be a conspiracy against reason, that violent or sexual behaviour can be both more and less consequential than Hollywood convention insists.

In short, his pictures thrive on irony, and the superb, gripping ‘Black Book’ is a double-faced affair. His first Dutch production in two decades uses Rachel’s experiences to hold a glass to the little-examined period of Dutch history around the end of WW2. Her family lost, the former singer falls in with a Resistance cell, is given a new identity and infiltrates the local SS HQ via a liaison with senior officer Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). As the Nazis crumble and Rachel begins to glean the contents of the titular logbook, however, she realises she may have less to fear from the disarmingly decent Müntze than the ‘heroes’ of the underground or a vengeful public.

For Verhoeven, the ostensibly heroic and dutiful are rarely distinguishable from the venal and inane; even ‘Soldier of Orange’ (1977), adapted from the memoirs of one of the Netherlands’ most celebrated WW2 fighter pilots, presented the war more as gratifying adventure than noble struggle. That film’s Hague liberation sequence was blithely jubilant; its counterpart here is a nightmare ordeal, in keeping with the plot’s other reversals of historical expectation. Such reversals divorce the global from the personal and focus attention on Rachel’s bizarrely ambivalent position as the Jew singing at the Nazi soirée.

Like ‘Katie Tippel’ (1975) and ‘Showgirls’, ‘Black Book’ charts the progress of a woman set on survival and independence and willing to use sex. Rachel is more sympathetic, but just as canny, and she takes to her role-playing life with aplomb. Van Houten’s barnstorming performance, accentuated by a bold, saturated palette, makes comparisons to Garbo and Jean Harlow plausible, but Rachel is far from the only character well-versed in the uses of glamour. A noble visage or political assumption might distort as much as a small black book reveals. Best not judge by covers.
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Release details

Rated:

15

UK release:

Fri Jan 19, 2007

Duration:

146 mins

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5
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Katharyn

I loved this movie. There are plot holes you could drive a truck through, but the pace is such that one doesn't notice them at the time. Suspend your disbelief, and enjoy.

Stephan Barkan

I have been a fan of Paul Verhoeven since the early films he made in his native country Holland. Most notably, "Spetters" and "Turk's Fruit." Verhoeven has a distinct style of his own and is a great story teller. In "Black Book" he is in top form once again having made a film which many have described as rivetting. At the heart of the film is a remarkable and admirable performance by lead actress Carice Van Houten - the central figure of the film. This film is both highly entertaining as it is educational and immerses one totally into the horror of the Nazi period. Not to be missed! exception own native

Stephan Barkan

I have been a fan of Paul Verhoeven since the early films he made in his native country Holland. Most notably, "Spetters" and "Turk's Fruit." Verhoeven has a distinct style of his own and is a great story teller. In "Black Book" he is in top form once again having made a film which many have described as rivetting. At the heart of the film is a remarkable and admirable performance by lead actress Carice Van Houten - the central figure of the film. This film is both highly entertaining as it is educational and immerses one totally into the horror of the Nazi period. Not to be missed! exception own native

Josh

The Time Out Chicago review does Black Book a huge injustice and the reviewer can't seem to look beyond the nudity. Actually they seem obsessed by it which is a shame because Black Book is a well plotted, well acted thriller. No doubt if it were had more violence and less nudity it would have been given a good rating by the reviewer. Fortunately European cinema isn't as sexually repressed as America seems to be. It's funny that they compare it with Isla, She Wolf Of The SS when that film would be much more closer to the 'torture porn' cinema that seems to be all the rage in the US.

Josh

The Time Out Chicago review does Black Book a huge injustice and the reviewer can't seem to look beyond the nudity. Actually they seem obsessed by it which is a shame because Black Book is a well plotted, well acted thriller. No doubt if it were had more violence and less nudity it would have been given a good rating by the reviewer. Fortunately European cinema isn't as sexually repressed as America seems to be. It's funny that they compare it with Isla, She Wolf Of The SS when that film would be much more closer to the 'torture porn' cinema that seems to be all the rage in the US.

Kathy

I found this film sad but riveting and did at times have me on the edge of my seat. Brilliant film in my estimation.

Kathy

I found this film sad but riveting and did at times have me on the edge of my seat. Brilliant film in my estimation.

Peter Cox

Hard to watch, even harder to comprehend. Not your average war film or thriller. Engrossing, challenging and - yes - entertaining in large measure. Highly recommended.

Peter Cox

Hard to watch, even harder to comprehend. Not your average war film or thriller. Engrossing, challenging and - yes - entertaining in large measure. Highly recommended.

Technoguy

A thoroughly enjoyable war time romp of well-paced fast action sequences about the resistance in Nazi-occupied Holland. Van Houten excellent.She literally gives it her all, baring breasts and buttocks in equal measure and this without detracting one bit from the emotional wallop of her acting. The story was well told and involving as events unfold and loyalties and betrayals and double-crosses pour out. Verhoen has brought the zip of Hollywood back into his own backyard.He's got away from the sci-fi monster treadmill of his American films and delivered a good old fashioned story with a great recreation of historical accuracy.

roy

A moving thriller based I am told on true facts. It shows what lengths were required to survive and fight the Nazis. The heroine is a brave stoic personality whose only crime was to be Jewish. She used her looks, personality and talents not only ro survive but to be proactive in the struggle againts the nazis. It is incomprehensible how human beings can treat other human beings and this is shown in this war time drama. We were very moved and educated by the movie highly recommend it to those who have an interest in wartime drama thrillers especially if they have family who were dirctly affected.

roy

A moving thriller based I am told on true facts. It shows what lengths were required to survive and fight the Nazis. The heroine is a brave stoic personality whose only crime was to be Jewish. She used her looks, personality and talents not only ro survive but to be proactive in the struggle againts the nazis. It is incomprehensible how human beings can treat other human beings and this is shown in this war time drama. We were very moved and educated by the movie highly recommend it to those who have an interest in wartime drama thrillers especially if they have family who were dirctly affected.

Joan Newman

Although it is quite possible to make a witty, even humorous film about the Nazis, ( Europa, Europa for instance) this film strives to do so, but falls short. Endless car crashes and shoot-ups to a frenetic music score are reminiscent of the Keystone Cops. The film is crammed with incident but ultimately is very shallow. The tone is all wrong, from a very early scene in which the 'heroine' on witnessing a direct bomb hit on the farmhouse where a family with numerous children has sheltered her, remarks simply, 'I've lost my hiding place". We may not need a heroine with a fixed moral centre, but at least give us one we can like. Sure, she's a survivor and does what is necessary, but ultimately who cares ?