High stakes topic
Black Book is principally set in Nazi-occupied Netherlands during a very confusing time: the end of World War II. Knowing that all the characters, irrespective of allegiance, are in life-and-death situations, adds tension.
I love it when films tell us things or broaden our perspective. This is one of those films. The day after seeing it I swotted up on the war that affected more countries than any other in military history.
Director Paul Verhoeven: returns home at last
Hollywood is the place where directors from across the world go when they want to make mainstream films for the global market – often after they’ve been successful at home. This is the case with Black Book director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers). It is always fascinating to examine what films directors in this category return home to make. The very skilled Verhoeven hadn’t made a film back in the Netherlands for 20 years until this one. It is set in The Hague in 1944; Verhoeven was living there and aged six at that time.
Director Paul Verhoeven: a good sport
My nature is to want to most support good people who don’t take themselves too seriously. It says here that Verhoeven was the first director to show up in person to accept a Golden Raspberry Award – actually two Raspberries, for worst picture and worst director for Showgirls in 1995. If that’s not the sign of a good bloke, what is?
It’s Verhoeven, so of course there’s nudity. And in case you’re wondering: male and female nudity.
The mind games keep you guessing
All the key characters are fully drawn but some are who they say they are and some are dirty double-crossers, but it’s not easy to know which are which and this keeps the mind nicely occupied.
Carice van Houten (Valkyrie, Game of Thrones) gives a very admirable performance as a member of the Dutch resistance. She’s in practically every scene playing an emotionally demanding and action orientated role, and she also sings her own songs. She was desperate to play Rachel/Ellis, van Houten has said, and felt she had never played a role with such weight. It helped that she was on set with her was good friend Halina Reijn, who plays Ronnie. I noted with interest that Verhoeven said this about the women: “There is a difference between how a woman acts and who she really is. I wanted to show that with Ellis and Ronnie.” I guess that applies to all people; but more to women?
High production values
A film with ‘high production values’ has great sets and costumes, flawless sound and lighting, and so on; in other words, those aspects of a film that are separate to the script, acting and direction. Black Book epitomises that term, making the film a great window into life at that time.
'Best Dutch film ever'
I always think it’s worth taking notice of ‘national’ winners. Black Book (it was known as Zwartboek locally) won best film, director, actor (Frank Lammers) and actress in the Golden Calf Awards, held as part of the Netherlands Film Festival. In 2008, it was also voted the best Dutch film ever by the Dutch public.