New York Magazine


Black Book (Zwartboek)
  Release Date: 04/04/07

Starring: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldemar Kobus

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rating: (R)
  War, Suspense/Thriller
  Running Time
  145 min
  Sony Picture Classics
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The director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) returned to his native Holland to make Black Book, a lush and sexy cloak-and-dagger picture in which a young Jewish woman, Rachel (Carice van Houten), watches her family machine-gunned by Nazis and ends up working for the Dutch Resistance—for which she dyes her hair blonde, goes undercover at Gestapo headquarters, and sleeps with the head man (Sebastian Koch, the conscience-ridden playwright of The Lives of Others). The vast majority of filmmakers drop to their knees whenever Nazis and Jews show up in the same movie, but Verhoeven doesn't let the Holocaust bog him down. That's not an altogether bad thing. Through Rachel's eyes we see the German occupation in a way that's morally destabilizing. We see the Dutch who risk their lives to hide Jews and yet are human—who sometimes let their resentment of Jews show. And we see Nazis who know how to throw a swell party. Black Book peaks when Rachel, a lovely chanteuse, finds herself singing about "naughty Lola" accompanied by the piano stylings of the fat Nazi who ordered her family shot down. The scene is frightening, glamorous, disgusting, exhilarating. It seems taboo to be this turned on by Jews and Nazis making whoopee.

At the start, I couldn't believe that the floridly cynical Verhoeven could make a movie this romantic, this thrillingly old-fashioned, this straight; I thought he must have had surgery to get his tongue out of his cheek. The Verhoevenisms that do creep in recall Hitchcock's emotionally labyrinthine double-agent melodrama Notorious. But before you can yell, "Auteur! Auteur!" Verhoeven reasserts himself with a vengeance. In the last half-hour, the Jewish heroine ends up being jeered, Carrie style, under the contents of a giant vat of shit, and there are so many crosses and double-crosses I gave up trying to diagram the whole conspiracy. For all the moral upheavals of the first days of the post-war era, something is kerflooey when you're rooting for the Jewish girl to end up with the nice Gestapo fella.

In spite of my cavils, I urge you not to pass up Black Book, especially on a wide screen. It's a marvelous movie-movie, with a new screen goddess. Van Houten has a soft, heart-shaped face on top of a body so naturally, ripely beautiful it has its own kind of truth. —Reviewed by David Edelstein, New York Magazine