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Black Book

Art House & International movie directed by Paul Verhoeven

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A Stunning, Compelling Film on Every Level

  • Sep 27, 2007
  • by
Just when we think we have read about or seen all of the stories there are to tell about courageous heroes/heroines who sacrificed much for the sake of many during World War II, along comes BLACK BOOK (ZWARTBOEK) with another dramatic 'biography' of a significant figure. Director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Spetters, Total Recall) is a much admired Dutch artist who is able to draw his audience into another world so real that it literally feels as though we are part of the process. And that is precisely why this film works so well: the audience as a participant drives home the film's message that war changes people, that from one day to the next it is impossible to distinguish the 'bad' from the 'good', the 'enemy' from the 'friend'.

Rachel Stein (the enormously gifted Carice van Houten) was a Jewish Dutch born cabaret singer in Berlin until the war broke out, at which time she returned to Holland to hide during the Jewish Solution. A series of incidents in 1944 destroy her hiding place and thwart her attempts to join her family to escape the Nazis. She is left to fend by herself until she bonds with a group from the Dutch Resistance. Gaining their confidence she is asked to masquerade as a German singer, dye all of her body hair blond, enter Germany as the consort of a doctor Hans Akkerman (Thom Hoffman) and infiltrate the highest elements of the Nazi regime, namely to become the mistress of Gestapo head Ludwig M√ľntze (Sebastian Koch) changing her name to Ellis de Vries. She stays in contact with the Resistance, places microphones in strategic positions, and with her friend Ronnie (Halina Reijn) becomes a Nazi party girl, singing at events while assisting her colleagues underground. The story is complex with many surprises as to who is with the Nazis and who is with the Resistance, and the story is so well told that we the audience are left guessing identities much the same as the characters.

Paul Verhoeven wrote the screenplay with Gerard Soeteman and Verhoeven's dedication to his story is always present. There is a considerable violence and some sections that may offend viewers, but try to tell a true war story without including such aspects!

The cast is brilliant, especially the multi-talented Carice van Houten, easily one of the finest actresses on the screen today. The entire cast is includes such gifted actors as Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint, Christian Berkel, Dolf de Vries, Michiel Huisman and Ronald Armbrust. The cinematography by Karl Walter Lindenlaub recreates not only The Hague, Holland, and Germany but also a kibbutz in Israel with solid veracity. Anne Dudley has created a musical score that includes songs from the period (sung beautifully by Carice van Houten), and atmospheric scoring for the tender scenes as well as the many tense scenes.

Released in Europe in 2006, it is not clear as to whether this film will be eligible for the Oscars this year. If it is it should win. It is one of the finest films this reviewer has seen in a long time. In Dutch, German, Hebrew, and English with subtitles. Highly Recommended! Grady Harp, September 07

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More Black Book reviews
review by . October 05, 2009
"The Black Book"    Hiding in Plain Sight    Amos Lassen    What a wonderful gripping drama this is. "The Black Book" reminds us of how good movies can be. It starts in 1956 and we meet Rachel Stein (Carice von Houten), an Israeli citizen teaching school on a kibbutz when she meets an old friend who is on vacation with her husband. That meeting brings back all of the painful memories she had tried to erase. We then travel backwards to 1944 …
review by . January 01, 2008
The Netherland's `Black Book' has many attributes on its "list". Glossy cinematography, excellent acting, and fine direction lead a movie with the look and feel of a classic. The best thing about the film, though, is its distinctive story. "Inspired by true events," director Paul Verhoeven gives us a unique survivor tale during The Holocaust.     Like many survivors, singer Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), flees the Gestapo by ferry with her companions. While many are brutally …
review by . October 10, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
I won't reiterate the plot here since other reviews have described the film in sufficient detail, but merely want to make a point about Verhoeven's work, that this film in particular helped me see. While "Black Book" may seem a far cry from Total Recall, Robocop, Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Starship Troopers (some of Verhoeven's best known Hollywood films) it shares with each of these films Verhoeven's keen insight into what makes a genre film tick and his perverse delight in undercutting and …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #96
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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As inBasic Instinct, a lovely lady takes the lead inBlack 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'sFlesh + Blood, the Dutch director released an American movie every two to three years. After the poorly receivedHollow 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 ...
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Director: Paul Verhoeven
Genre: Foreign
DVD Release Date: September 25, 2007
Runtime: 145 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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