Black Book (Zwartboek)

Just for starters, no movie about the Dutch Resistance during World War II has any right to be this wildly entertaining, not to mention this provocative and potently erotic. In part, it's a love story about a sympathetic Nazi and a Jewish girl who dyes her hair blond, pubes included, to seduce him. Only in a Paul Verhoeven movie, kids. The Amsterdam-born director made his name in Hollywood sending h-nuld to Mars in Total Recall, uncrossing Sharon Stone's legs in Basic Instinct, building a better police state in RoboCop and crafting the most watchable flop ever with the deliciously awful Showgirls.

For those with longer memories, Verhoeven first made his mark in the Netherlands with a series of feisty films (Spetters, Turkish Delight, The Fourth Man). The best was 1979's Soldier of Orange, tale of the heroic Dutch Resistance, a theme that Verhoeven and screenwriter Gerard Soeteman seek to re-examine and even repudiate with Black Book. The title refers to the book containing the names of Jewish families who spend their savings for boat passage out of German-occupied Holland in 1944, only to be betrayed to the Nazis, who rob and murder them.

Carice van Houten, a in the making, plays Rachel Stein, who sees her family slaughtered while she escapes by diving to safety. Spurred on by revenge, she joins the Resistance. Told to dye her hair and pass for Aryan as singer Ellis de Vries, Rachel smuggles guns on a train with flirtatious Resistance doctor Hans Akkermans (Thom Hoffman). But a chance meeting with Nazi chief Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch) leads to her most dangerous mission: Beguile the widowed Müntze into bed, get a job working at Nazi headquarters and bug the place so the Resistance can listen in.

From that kernel springs a plot that Verhoeven loads with incident and thrilling action, taking time out for Rachel to sing at Nazi dinner parties and fall in love with Müntze, who wants to arrange a truce before the war ends, to avoid more senseless killing. The chemistry between van Houten and Koch is palpable. They are easily he hottest couple in movies right now. Koch, who portrayed the playwright in the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, proves himself again to be a romantic, riveting screen presence. But the film belongs to van Houten, 29, a sexy, showstopping beauty with the gift possessed by only the best actors to make you feel the emotions roiling beneath the surface. Verhoeven is counting on the fact that we'll follow her anywhere, and we do. Not to give too much away, but Black Book takes us down byzantine corridors concerning the traitors and profiteers in the Dutch Resistance and the abuse of prisoners after the war that rivaled Abu Ghraib. Verhoeven bites off more than he can handily chew. He wouldn't be Verhoeven if he didn't. But his tremendously exciting film can suddenly, unpredictably move you to tears. Black Book, the first film Verhoeven has made in the Netherlands in two decades, is spoken in Dutch, German, Hebrew and English, and it lasts for 145 minutes. There's not a dull second in the bunch. Verhoeven is back, baby, and he's got his mojo working.

From The Archives Issue 248: September 22, 1977
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