Black Book

If you think of Paul Verhoeven as the director of Basic Instinct and Showgirls, you would be right. But Black Book is a World War II film mostly in Dutch (Verhoeven’s native tongue), which is not exactly what you would expect. Okay, there is more nudity than you would normally see in a war drama, but it usually seems integral to the story. Not always, mind you, but usually.

Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) is a Jewish singer living in hiding in occupied Netherlands. Early in the film there is a chance to escape to an unoccupied part of the country, but things go wrong. She finds some other sympathetic members of the resistance, including businessman Gerben Kuipers and doctor Hans Akkermans. As you can tell from the trailers, Rachel ends up working for the Nazis, dying her hair blond and using the name Ellis. The key Nazi character is named Müntze, and is played by Sebastian Koch who you may remember from The Lives of Others.

I don’t want to give too much more away. The film is beautifully shot, and it’s not surprising that this is the most expensive Dutch language film ever made. But it is also quite difficult to watch at times, because the brutality of war, especially on the small scale, is not glossed over.

What is unusual about the film is the way it does not paint the two sides of the conflict as purely good and purely evil. Rather than black and white, you see shifting shades of gray, and I thought that made the film well worth seeing.

I’ll give it a strong 3 stars out of 4 stars.

Seen 5/13/2007.

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