Paul Verhoeven has a wacky track record. He made Robocop, Total Recall, the smarter than expected Starship Troopers, and the disgustingly uncomfortable Showgirls. With a list like that, guessing what any of his other movies are like is a crapshoot. After a break from Hollow Man, Verhoeven went back to Europe to make Black Book.
Black Book stars Carice van Houten as Rachel Stein, a Jewish woman hiding in Nazi controlled Netherlands at the end of World War II. When her hiding place disappears, she lives on the run. While doing so, she learns of an opportunity to make it out of Nazi controlled territory. When her attempt ends with her family killed and her as the sole survivor, she finds her way to the Dutch Resistance. They take her in and give her a job, but their plans require her assistance. Now she must go undercover to learn as much as she can about the Germans’ movements and plans to better suit the Resistance’s cause.
Verhoeven outdoes himself with this one. A man who isn’t afraid to put sexuality in his films, here he exercises restraint. Instead of being a foreign language Nazi-Showgirls hybrid, he puts the weight on emotional intimacy. Yes, there is sex and there is nudity, but it isn’t gratuitous. It moves the story along (with exception of the hair dye seen that is). Being a foreign film and not an American film, the sex isn’t stylized to look like erotica. It emphasizes the sex and gore of the movie only for emotion purposes. A concept many movies today don’t do. Like, why is that girl running around nude in My Bloody Valentine 3D?! It served no purpose.
Rachel is a broken woman, a singer before the war forced silent because of her beliefs. And seeing her family die, she carries a lot on her shoulders. Van Houten excels at showing her fear and determination in her face. Sebastian Koch (who plays the Nazi she seduces) conveys a tragic hero throughout the film. He’s a Nazi, but he isn’t a monster. He has compassion and consideration, unlike many of his peers. When the war comes to an end, Koch’s character sees a whole different side of things, which Koch demonstrates with conviction.
I love this movie. It would have won had it been nominated for Best Foreign Language at the Academy Awards the year of its release, but it wasn’t chosen. This is a great epic film. It has love, espionage, murder, war, and betrayal (everything a period piece epic needs to succeed). The story is rich and explores a place where we often don’t visit in WWII movies. I think this movie is vastly superior to Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tarantino. I just have trouble enjoying anything he did more than the Kill Bills (AS ONE FILM) and Pulp Fiction.
If you enjoy big budget war-dramas, this is your next rental. It’s in a foreign language (I feel the need to stress this), but that only makes the film more credible. Plus, you all need to watch more foreign language movies (but that’s another post all together). 4.5 out of 5 stars