Friday, 18 September 2009

Black Book


Zwaertbook; War drama, The Netherlands/ UK/ Germany/ Belgium/ USA, 2006; D: Paul Verhoeven, S: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Derek de Lint, Halina Reijn

In '56, Dutch woman Ronnie recognizes her old friend Rachel Stein in a kibbutz near the sea of Galilee. Rachel then remembers her traumatic past during the last few months of World War II: as a Jewish woman, she was hiding in the Netherlands. When the Nazis discover her whereabouts, she trusts a police officer, Van Gein, and boards a boat with the other Jews who were promised to get transported to safety. The Nazis kill them in a trap, but Rachel survives, finds a new name, Ellis, and joins the resistance members led by Gerben. By seducing the local SS Commander Muntze, she mingles in the elite circles and places a microphone in the Nazi headquarters. But she really falls in love with him. The Nazi officer Franken double-crosses the resistance, shoots many of them in a trap and blames Ellis for everything, labeling her as a traitor. After the end of war, Muntze and Franken get killed, Ellis is accused of being a traitor, but manages to find the real traitor, Hans, and kill him with Gerben. Back in the kibburt with Rachel in '56, another Arab-Israeli war starts.

Nominated for a BAFTA as best foreign language film, the fore-last film by director Paul Verhoeven, voted by the Dutch public in '08 as the best Dutch film till date, "Black Book" is a slightly overrated, but extremely energetic World War II film that doesn't avoid some of the cliches of the genre, but still manages to change a good part of them and present them as something good. As with most of Verhoeven's films, "Book" is also slightly heavy handed, but its chaos is actually quite meaningful and builds a hidden theme inside throughout, especially towards the ever increasing power of bitterness in the finale. The main theme is that people are evil or always take the easier wrong route of violence and aggression than to actually do the right thing, which is why the good individuals, like the main heroine Ellis, have to suffer. After her family was killed by the Nazis, she decides to become a spy of the resistance and go all the way (she dyes her pubic hair blond; sleeps with SS Commander Muntze) but gets double-crossed and the Nazis make her partners believe she actually betrayed them. The label of a traitor gets perversely imposed on her and she has to take the punishment she doesn't deserve (i.e. the angry Dutch pour feces over her). Some of the "heroine gets saved in the nick of time" gimmicks are far fetched, but Verhoeven's passionate take on the subject are so gripping they will make the viewers accept them. In one moment, he did touch perfection: in the final scene of the film, that says absolutely everything about some every lasting cycles of hate and violence in life, while the tragic good people try to live their normal lives.

Grade:+++

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