Black Book

Paul Verhoeven

Although director Paul Verhoeven admittedly has a thing for strong women manipulating men with their sexuality with his most infamous 90’s films (including Showgirls and Basic Instinct), never has he put the combination together in such a mature, riveting and masterful way as he does with Black Book. Returning to his homeland of the Netherlands, director Verhoeven co-wrote this film about a young Jewish woman who struggles first to survive the war and secondly to become a spy for the Dutch resistance with Gerard Soeteman. Carice van Houten gives a passionate performance as Rachel whose safety is jeopardized when her hiding place is bombed and she makes a last ditch attempt to flee to the freed south in a night boat border crossing that’s interrupted by a near massacre of which she’s the sole survivor. Teaming up with other members of the resistance, the beauty and charm of the former cabaret singer is put to the test when she catches the eye of an SS officer on a train and is later sent into German headquarters to seduce the man and report back with information. Of course, the assignment predictably turns to love and although it’s set up as a sort of tawdry version of Notorious, we’re quickly fooled by the first of many surprisingly maddening and heart-pounding twists that Verhoeven has up his sleeve as Rachel (now Ellis) keeps getting betrayed. Reported by IMDb as the most expensive Dutch film ever made to date, this gorgeously photographed epic was the official Netherlands selection for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2007 but failed to make the cut of just five works chosen. Despite some film festival screenings near the end of ’06 and beginning of ’07, Black Book was finally released theatrically in limited release in 2007 which seems to beg the question of why Verhoeven and company didn’t wait an additional year to try and position the film for greater reception and perhaps a 2008 nomination. Still, in any case, now that it’s available on DVD, hopefully it will finally gain the audience it richly deserves as it is one of the only films in memory that I can recall in the over-populated World War II genre that paints a decidedly different picture of the idea of the resistance as well as some of the men and women who professed to help the Jewish people in various ways.