Posted in Current events

Film review: Zwartboek (Paul Verhoeven)

zwartboek.jpgZwartboek (Black Book), the new film by Dutch director, Paul Verhoeven, opened two weeks ago in Amsterdam. It is Verhoeven’s first Dutch film in years – he made Soldaat van Oranje (Soldier of Orange) in 1977 and moved to the US where he made films such as Basic Instinct, Robocop, Showgirls, and Total Recall.

Synopsis: Zwartboek is set in 1944, close to the end of the war, and is the story of a Dutch-Jewish cabaret singer, Rachel Stein (played by Carice van Houten) who is forced to go underground and join the Resistance after her family (and several other wealthy Dutch Jews) are murdered by the SS during an escape attempt. Someone in the Resistance is betraying the others and Rachel Stein, who is given a new identity – Ellis de Vries – must find out. With a new identity, she manages to get a job as a secretary in the SS headquarters in the Hague. She falls in love with an SS officer, Ludwig Münze (played by Sebastian Koch), who ends up saving her life. Towards the end, she helps a group of resistance fighters free prisoners in the SS building but the plan has been discovered by the SS (or was it a trap from the beginning?) and almost all of them are killed. The title of the film, Zwartboek (Black Book) refers to the black journal kept by Rachel Stein’s family lawyer detailing his meetings with the Germans and the Resistance, and which reveals to her exactly who is betraying their resistance cell. After the war, when Rachel Stein/Ellis de Vries finds out who was betraying their group, she plans on taking revenge — but will she? I won’t ruin the plot by telling you.

What I liked about the film: very strong performances by all of the actors, in particular Carice van Houten who plays Rachel Stein/Ellis de Vries and Waldemar Kobus who plays Günther Franken, a high-ranking SS officer who tortures prisoners by day and becomes a party animal by night, singing cabaret duets with Ellis and playing the piano at parties. Sebastian Koch’s portrayal of the thoughtful, subdued Münze is perfect. This film is really a thriller set during the dying days of the war, and the director did a terrific job in keeping a furious pace.

What I did not like about the film: The ending seemed forced, as if the director had planned a different ending and then, for whatever reason, he tacked on this particular one. It just seemd to go against the theme of this film – that there are no “heroes” or “villains”, nothing is black and white, nothing is what it seems. I will not ruin the film for you by telling you the ending. I thought the REAL ending should have been the scene where Dr. Hans Akkermans (played by Thom Hoffman) is on the balcony being cheered by a crowd as a war hero during parade. Maybe the director was trying to make a ending that would go well with US audiences (who tend to favor neat little endings where the villains are punished).
Visit the official film site at: http://www.zwartboekdefilm.nl/ (in Dutch)

Read the review in Variety.

Watch the trailer: http://www.a-film.nl/trailer.php?id=1194

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Author:

Author of "The Secret of Angat", a novel set in the Philippines during World War II. Founder, MuniWireless.com; Founder (Mapplr.com - travel) and Shopplr.com (beauty, style).

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