Carice van Houten
Would you trust the man with a plethora of Hollywood booboos under his belt with the biggest budget movie the Dutch film industry has ever funded?
Well, this gutsy tale is proof that someone would. And did. Paul Verhoeven's inability to write English scripts led to him being pigeonholed into either Sci-Fi or smut while he was in Hollywood - so he seems to have really relished this move back to European cinema, his roots. Despite all the nudity, Verhoeven has twenty years experience fine-tuning the art of racy, pacy action thrillers. With Black Book, he takes his signature style back to the motherland, adds some swastikas, and gives it a new lease of life.
Gumptious heroine Rachel (the captivating Carice van Houten) is forced into hiding after escaping a Nazi patrol boat that tragically mowed down her entire family. Having vowed to unmask the traitors that sent her family and many others to their deaths, she quickly gets adopted by a Resistance group, who promise to help her in her plight. She then manages to infiltrate Nazi Headquarters because of her charisma and a collection of rare stamps (eh?), dyes her hair, and becomes blonde bombshell non-Jew alias Ellis De Vries. But as gets drawn deeper into the Nazi world, can she stay detached from those she is supposed to be working against, and survive the machinations of those she is supposed to be working for?
The labyrinthine plot of Black Book mirrors the tension of this historical moment. Verhoeven chooses to explore the closing months of WW2, that little documented period when survival by any means possible was utmost, and betrayal was rife. Black Book explores the cold reality of war, that erases the distinction between good and evil and leaves only the grey areas of humanity. It depicts the dark days of the Dutch Resistance, showing the lengths they had to go to, the murky waters they had to tread, in order to emerge largely unscathed.
Verhoeven's stark refusal to typify any of his characters, a motif that has become synonymous with his work, is exemplified here once more. Through his flawed heroes, he examines the impossibility of taking a moral stance in such a climate.
Verhoeven is fascinated by this ambivalent period when people were neither heroes nor villains, and has been dedicated to bringing a fresh insight into this moment to the silver screen for many years. He has been personally researching this period for 40 years, and has worked on the script with Gerard Soeteman for the last 20. Nobody else has shown how the Dutch treated their own prisoners in 1945; Verhoeven's obsession with this maltreatment stemmed from when he was 6 years old and was forced to walk past the dead bodies of Dutch hostages killed by Germans after having been betrayed. Dutch betrayals of their own people have been hidden from history, and it has taken Hollywood's provocative input to resurrect the realities of this time for the Dutch masses to witness, breaking the shroud of silence that surrounds it.
Verhoeven manages to negotiate Black Book’s complex plot with a cracking script, a cavalier attitude, and a smattering of controversy. Buggings, backstabbings and betrayals abound, and even the smut feels justified - what a brilliant return to form.