2006, R, 145 min. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Starring Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., April 27, 2007
Verhoeven returns to his native Netherlands after a 20-year sojourn in Hollywood, and the result is nothing like Showgirls. Just so we’re clear. Black Book (Zwartboek) resurrects themes from 1977’s Soldier of Orange, a heroic thriller about Dutch resistance to Nazi occupation starring the rugged, dashing Rutger Hauer. While Verhoeven’s blockbuster showmanship remains intact, Black Book is more morally shaded, its sympathies divided among individuals rather than ideologies. After the Jerries bomb her hideout, lovely Rachel Stein (van Houten) tries to escape to Belgium, only to be double-crossed by profiteering Nazi collaborators. Reborn with fake papers as Ellis de Vries, she goes blond and joins a resistance cell, infiltrating the local German outpost through the pants of its commander (Koch). In a moment that is pure Verhoeven, she peroxides her pubes to appear Aryan, and the burning sensation catalyzes passionate congress with a co-conspirator (Hoffman) rather than rinsing. Then she forgets to retouch the roots on her head. For just as Ellis discovers that an enemy can be kind and a friend cruel, Verhoeven can be philosophical yet perverse, lofty yet earthy. In its evenhanded consideration of collusion and resistance, of evil and good, and of the people in between, Black Book fits the trend of films like Germany’s Before the Fall (2004) and the Czech Republic’s Dark Blue World (2001). Verhoeven mines the resistance movement for Dutch nationalism and anti-Semitism; some characters are simply misguided by impossible love. All of this unfolds with characteristic Verhoeven spectacle: At 16 million Euros, Black Book is the most expensive Dutch production to date, and what’s in the budget is on the screen. The action set-pieces, double crosses, and narrow escapes are handsomely mounted and suspenseful as a Saturday matinee. In the production notes, Verhoeven cites David Lean as an influence, and the film has Lean’s epic scope and crackerjack timing, if not his mannerly refinement. (The 145-minute running time zips right by.) Just be prepared for the occasional satirical sucker punch (“Luckily, the Germans made five copies of everything!”) and an entire vat of human waste tipped over the protagonist.