ZWARTBOEK

Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Holland. 2006.


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Verhoeven's return to his native Holland for his first films since 'Hollow Man' shows him back on the form that took him to Hollywood.  Everything you expect is here, plenty of sex but we also see a quite adept director of the thriller genre.  The film has so many twists and turns in a narrative that is both gripping and engaging, although perhaps without the sex people might turn off.  

The story revolves around Rachel Steinn (Carice van Houten), who after seeing her family slaughtered amongst a boatful of Jews, joins the Dutch Resistance where she goes undercover in the Nazi Gestapo offices in Holland as Ellis de Vries, where she falls in love with Ludwing Muntze (Sebastian Koch), a German officer who at the end of the war is both regretful and defeatist.  A sympathetic Nazi in a war film is something new, while in the shakedown the Dutch are seen as villains as they look out for there own self-interest - the plan being killing Jews for their personal fortune so no questions are asked after the war ends and several hundred Jews are missing. 

On some levels noir, war picture and feminist flick, it helps to have a female as the lead 'terrorist' and Ms. Van Houten is sexy in her role while maintaining dignity throughout. Some reviews have stated how too much occurs to her for belief - well did not Arnie go through too much in 'Total Recall' (killing his own wife).  Having a director who is so indebted to science fiction is not a problem; people are people in any dimension. 

All the acting is strong especially Van Houten and Koch, but also Waldemar Kobus as the grotesque Franken and Thom Hoffman as Dr. Akkermans, the look of everyone is of matinee idols and time past.  Van Houten and Koch do simmer the scene when on screen.

The screenplay keeps you thinking, the mis-en-scene always including something such as chocolate which can be both a sign of liberation and life-saving, excellent production, set design and costume leaves a lot to appreciate. 

The only quip I have would be the book-ending effect of the Israel set in 1956 at a kibbutz where Rachel now lives, while it serves the purpose of giving the film a flashback but as the film closes you realise the war against Judaism is not yet over - a clear political statement.  A film of the past with a clear message for the future; some wars are still going on. 

Jamie Garwood
 
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