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In the darkest days of World War II, Jewish fugitives attempt to escape occupied Holland -- only to face a Nazi ambush. Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) alone survives the attack and joins the Dutch Resistance to avenge her family. She soon confronts the ultimate test: she must infiltrate German headquarters by tempting Captain Ludwig Mÿntze (Sebastian Hoch). In the heat of passion, he uncovers her duplicity...but keeps her secret. Then Rachel's espionage reveals that a murderous traitor lurks within Resistance ranks. Unable to fully trust anyone, Rachel navigates a minefield of deception and becomes an enemy to both sides. Epic, passionate, breathtaking, Black Book relates an untold story of World War II where the distinctions between good and evil become blurred by the complexities of human nature.
As in Basic Instinct, a lovely lady takes the lead in Black Book, but this time Paul Verhoeven has more than cheap thrills in mind. Towards the end of WWII, Rachel Stein (the vibrant Carice von Houten), a Jewish singer, is living with a gentile family in the countryside. When Allied forces bomb the area, she's forced to flee. On her perilous journey to The Hague (Verhoeven's hometown), brunette Rachel joins the Resistance and changes her identity to blonde Ellis de Vries. Her next order of business: infiltrate Gestapo headquarters. Like many Verhoeven heroines, Rachel aces her assignment--and then some. First, she seduces the handsome Captain Müntze (Sebastian Koch, The Lives of Others), then she falls in love with him. Müntze, who returns her affection, isn't what he appears to be, but their relationship puts both at great risk. At this point, the filmmaker expertly kicks the proceedings into high gear, before concluding on a bittersweet note. Naturally, since this is a Verhoeven picture, there's plenty of wry humor and uninhibited sexuality along the way. Starting with 1985's Flesh + Blood, the Dutch director released an American movie every two to three years. After the poorly received Hollow Man, however, Verhoeven took a six-year break. Black Book, a return to his native Holland, was worth the wait. (He began work on the screenplay in the 1980s.) It works triple-time as a thriller, a tribute to Holland's Jewish population, and a poison pen letter to the Dutch opportunists who would attempt to sell them out. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
- Audio Commentary with Director Paul Verhoeven
- Making of Black Book
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Carice van Houten plays the sexy heroine who does whatever it takes to infiltrate the Nazis that are occupying the Dutch in the late days of the war. Corruption and intrigue are readily found both within the Nazi ranks and the local population. As the story unfolds, it becomes increasingly hard to know who can be trusted on both sides of the conflict.
This is an extremely well executed film by director Paul Verhoeven, and van Houten gives a riveting performance as the lead actress surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Excellent editing keeps the pace of the film fairly quick despite its two-and-a-half hours in length, and solid set decoration, location selection, and cinematography immerses one quite thoroughly in the period setting. This is a superb drama that I cannot recommend enough.
In this case, it is the 2006 Dutch film Black Book directed by Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct). Two hours twenty minutes of excitement, suspense, and wonderful acting. Dutch actress Carice Van Houten gives a remarkable performance, ably backed up by Sebastian Koch, Derek de Lint, and Thom Hoffman. It is truly a pleasure to watch these fascinating, unfamiliar faces as they put most of our American actors to shame.
Black Book begins in 1944 Netherlands as the Germans hunt down Jews trying to escape to liberated territory before being shipped off to the death camps. Rachel, the protagonist, survives a devilish trap in which her family is murdered and hooks up with the Dutch underground. In her attempt at revenge, we meet Nazis who become human and allies who betray. The mystery of Black Book is about who betrayed whom and when? I won't spoil the story for you but I will say the intelligent, complex script by Gerard Soeteman and Verhoeven kept me guessing up until the very end.
The realistic portrayal of World War II Holland reminded me of an earlier Verhoeven film, Soldier of Orange. He has obviously grown as a director who knows how to tell a good story. He is known for violence and sexual content, but after all Black Book is a war film, not Breakfast At Tiffany's. I'm only sorry I didn't see this exciting film when it was first released, but better late than never. Treat yourself to a copy.
A very good-looking woman becomes involved with the Germans to spy for the Resistance. This is a game of cat and mouse set in occupied Holland where good, evil, truth or lies all become dependent on what one is trying to do at the current time. While the story seems simple, there are a number of layers to it, involving greed, opportunity, fear and love.
The film is over two hours and is in Dutch. You need to be ready to read the subtitles and watch the action. Given the story, there is a good deal of nudity and sexual activity. The film never becomes NC-17 or X rated but this is for adults.
This is one of the best foreign films about World War II. This and Soldier of Orange are the two WWII Dutch I wanted in my library. Paul Verhoeven did both films producing thought provoking and entertaining stories.
The film's main character is Rachel Stein, who later goes by the name of Ellis de Vries. The movie begins with Rachel in Israel eleven years after the European war. After meeting one of her wartime friends, the setting moves back to wartime Holland. It is late 1944 and Rachel and her family have thus far succeeded in hiding from the Nazis. As the Allied advance has stalled after September's Operation Market Garden, Rachel, her family, and dozens of others attempt to reach liberated Holland via a lumbering barge zigzagging through the marshes. Unfortunately they are betrayed and intercepted by a German patrol boat. As the sole survivor of the incident, Rachel makes her way to the Hague, changes her name and goes under cover for the resistance. She is motivated in part by the fact that she recognizes an officer at SS headquarters as one of the Germans who took part in the massacre and looting of the refugees who attempted to escape through the marshes.
At the SS headquarters she becomes romantically involved with a Sicherheitdienst officer Ludwig Muntze. Muntze realizes quickly that Rachel is not what she appears to be, but is smitten with her and does not take any action. For his part Muntze also realizes the the war is ending badly for Germany and secretly negotiates a cease fire with the resistance. Muntze attempts to assist Rachel by exposing SS officer Franken as an embezzler of looted jewels, money, and other valuables. The attempt backfires and Muntze's superior, Kautner, imprisons Muntze.
The resistance attempts to free some of their own from the basement of the headquarters, but are ambushed by alerted German SS troops. It becomes obvious that there is an additional traitor in the reistance. Rachel, now imprisoned by the SS, is framed as the traitor. She and Muntze subsequently escape from the prison, wait out the end of the war, and attempt to clear their names before they are captured by the Dutch and the mystery as to the real traitor continues to unfold.
The above summary barely does justice to the film as there are additional twists and turns, but you will have to watch the movie to find out what happens.
Unlike director Paul Verhoeven's earlier work SOLDIER OF ORANGE, BLACK BOOK is not a true story -- though it is billed as based on true events. This is where the film departs from some historical accuracy. In the beginning of the film we find Rachel living in circumstances similar to that of Ann Frank -- living in a secret annex of a farm house. Later she joins other refugees attempting to cross the rivers and marshes of the Biesbosch. In 1944 - 1945 the Biesbosch served as a regular route for couriers, refugees, and Airborne escapees. The film then jumps from September to several months later, which would put the film in February 1945, though it does not look like February. At that point in history the Dutch in occupied Holland suffered greatly in the what became known as the Hunger Winter. With the exception of the soup kitchen where Rachel is employed, the Hunger Winter is not portrayed in this film. Likewise in BLACK BOOK the Dutch rail service appears to be uninterrupted at this stage of the war. The final deviation from history is that the Germans at the SS headquarters celebrate Hitler's birthday in a fashion that would have been more likely in 1942 and not at at time when the Soviets had already surrounded Berlin and V-2 rockets were no longer being fired from the Hague.
Those points aside, the movie returns to the historical period with the euphoria surrounding the liberation and use of German military personnel for labor and administrative duties in the months following the German surrender.
There are some very familiar faces in this movie. In fact, four of the stars would also appear in 2008's VALKYRIE. Actor Christian Berkel makes yet another appearance as shaved-headed German officer. We have seen him in other war time setting movies such as DOWNFALL, VALKYRIE, and MIRACLE AT ST, ANNA.
In the end, BLACK BOOK has elements of war, Holocaust, love story, and detective thriller. Yes, as a European film there are some risque scenes included that lend very little to the story, but you expect this sort of thing from a movie lensed in the Netherlands.