Director: Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven has directed many and various films, but his writing credits are a little fewer and more specific. He’s known for being all over the place, from Starship Troopers to Showgirls, from Hollow Man to Elle, but earlier in his career he showed an interest in the Dutch Resistance movement during WWII, and that’s where Black Book lands us again. This is a unique perspective on a tale we think we know so well because we’ve seen it played out so many times; the Nazis invade and everyone who isn’t ready to salute Hitler either hides for their lives or fights back. But there is much to be appreciated and surprised by this time around, in a war story that uses different styles from what we’re used to, and offers us plenty more insight.
Toward the end of World War II, Jewish singer Rachel hides in the Dutch countryside until she can be reunited with her family, who have also been in hiding since the Nazis took control. Their dominance may be coming to an end, the Russians are coming from the east, the Canadians from the West, but until the war ends every Jew must be supremely careful. A member of the Dutch Resistance offers Rachel and her family a reunion and an escape, but their journey ends in tragedy, and she in turn joins the Resistance for revenge and for a chance to do her part. But what’s asked of her may be too much; to slip into the bed of a high ranking German officer and work from the inside, a position that may offer access but also comes with its unique dangers, with the end approaching and only a few knowing which side Rachel, now going by Ellis, is really on.
Part war story and part film noir, Black Book is an unusually dramatic and even colorful look at this time period, when others focus on its extreme brutality. Don’t get me wrong, there is still death and desecration, the period is still shown in its darkest light, but perhaps also with a nod to the dramatics that are inherent to espionage and betrayal. So it becomes half thriller, half history lesson, which perhaps only serves to make it that much more enjoyable, and maybe would keep some reluctant audience members in their seats for what otherwise might be seen simply as a sub-titled period piece. Black Book is so much more; it’s sexy, it’s stunning, it’s chaotic, it’s personal, and ultimately it’s touching, which is why this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this film, and why it definitely won’t be the last.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆