Film review: Black Book (Zwartboek)

Black Book
Zwartboek
2006
uFilm, Fu Works

STARRING Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint, Christian Berkel, Dolf de Vries, Peter Blok, Michiel Huisman, Johnny de Mol, Hugo Metsers, Matthias Schoenaerts
WRITTEN BY Gerard Soeteman, Paul Verhoeven
PRODUCED BY Jeroen Beker, Teun Hilte, San Fu Maltha, Jens Meurer, Jos van der Linden, Frans van Gestel
DIRECTED BY Paul Verhoeven

SHOT BY Karl Walter Lindenlaub
EDITED BY Job ter Burg, James Herbert
MUSIC BY Anne Dudley
DISTRIBUTED BY A-Film

Seen on 2006-10-05

As World War II just about wraps up, we find Jewish singer Rachel Stein (Carice Van Houten) hiding away in rural Holland.  When her hideout is bombed she is forced to flee, and in the process her family is gunned down through the acts of traitors to the Jewish cause.  Stein then finds herself is the midst of freedom fighters, and with the lingering memory of her ensanguined family still in mind, changes her name and agrees to assist the resistance.  Mission one: resume her flirtation with head of the Gestapo, Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch).  Stein becomes a valuable spy, which doesn’t help the growing love between herself and Müntze (who appears as one of the most sympathetic Nazis you’ll encounter), so we’re left to squirm in anxiety while the drama of loyalties and compromises play out for us.  Thankfully Black Book does not take up our time with incidental historical benchmarks; Book remains ardently personal to its multifaceted characters.  Stein is a wonderful female lead – brave, beautiful, inspiring, and true – and Van Houten makes her well worth watching.  Book represents the largest-scale film production ever put forth in The Netherlands.  The film’s only flaw, which falls under “nitpicking,” is that its scope could stand to be a little larger – perhaps Lean-ish.  Book tells a tremendous story, but at times scenes pass us in episodic moderation that doesn’t do justice to its own grand scale.

So, Book is Paul Verhoeven’s triumphant return to form after two decades of debauched American genre flicks.  He really is a talented director and it’s a relief to see that he hasn’t, in fact, “lost it”…indeed, he never had anything to lose, he simply was forced to compromise while working in a foreign country.  A deeply personal project, Verhoeven and Gerard Soeteman, a longtime friend of Verhoeven’s, had been working on the script for 20 years.  It seems that Verhoeven finally felt the time was right to tell his story, and it is doubtless not coincidental that Book comes seven years after his most shameful work, Hollow Man, when his identity as an artist found itself most compromised. Book portrays a world where we’re all simply trying to our best as tumult resounds, and the drama exists in the “hell of other people.”  Hollywood, whose prize ponies have of late been shoddily-gilded stags, could perhaps take a lesson from Stein and other resistors who hold true to a way of life that may be threatened to the death… but is not without its dignity.

written by David Ashley

Links:
Film’s site
Trailer
My interview participation with the cast/crew

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