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UK, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands
Drama, Thriller, War
IMDB rating:
Paul Verhoeven
Carice van Houten as Rachel Stein
Sebastian Koch as Ludwig Müntze
Thom Hoffman as Hans Akkermans
Halina Reijn as Ronnie
Waldemar Kobus as Günther Franken
Derek de Lint as Gerben Kuipers
Christian Berkel as General Käutner
Dolf de Vries as Notary Wim Smaal
Peter Blok as Van Gein
Ronald Armbrust as Tim Kuipers
Storyline: Israel 1956. Rachel, a Jew, rather unexpectedly meets an old friend at the kibbutz where she is working as a teacher. It brings back memories of her experiences in The Netherlands during the war, memories of betrayal. September 1944. Rachel is in trouble when her hiding place is bombed by allied troops. She gets in contact with a man from the resistance and joins a group of Jews who are to be smuggled across the Biesbosch by boat to the freed South Netherlands. Germans from a patrol boat murder them all however. Only Rachel is able to escape. She is rescued by a resistance group under the leadership of Gerben Kuipers. When Kuipers' son is captured after trying to smuggle weapons, he asks Rachel to seduce SS-hauptsturmführer Ludwig Müntze. Soon she will find out the attack in the Biesbosch wasn't a coincidence.
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a must see !
I just saw the movie and I loved it, the actors are fantastic, especially Carice Van Houten, who really carries the movie. I'd never seen her in a movie before and she is quite a revelation, I really hope to see more of her.

As for Verhoeven, his come-back to the Netherlands paid off. The production is flawless, the action scenes are very well done, and he brings out the best of his cast. The movie captures perfectly the madness of the time, you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys,there is nothing manipulative or Manichean in this movie,everything is not black and white. Not all Germans are monsters, the resist ants can be assholes and heroes lonely people who just try to survive.
Black, white and grey
I thought this was a really good film - although I was born after the war from what I've seen in footage of war since it captures well the horror, violence and senseless death that war entails.

We use a sense of good/bad (crudely speaking) to frame what goes on around us and this show what happens to that moral compass in times when daily life simply pulls the rug of normality right out from under our feet. People don't know who to trust - enemies seems like friends, friends become enemies, one death becomes less important than another, one life not as valuable, love can seem cruel. All these conflicting situations are superbly portrayed here, in the pressure cooker of the Resistance hideaway where everything is on permanent tenterhooks and certainties become a grey fog at times.

The acting is very believable, and Carice van Houten is superb in the lead role being vulnerable, single-minded, alluring and strong. Someone else felt that she seemed unconcerned by the death around her, but I feel that the pace of the film doesn't allow time to show that, although she shows clearly at one point the release of the horror and disgust she's been keeping the lid on. In a time of war, it must be hard to find a balance between being compassionate and yet not letting your emotions rule all your judgements so that you become ineffective.

Although it looks like a true 50s film in its depiction of the period, it's bang up to date in the way it's filmed - the bombs dropping are frightening, the gunshots sickening and the randomness of death in wartime brought horribly to life. This is a modern 21st century production and it shows, which makes it all the more gripping. I was amazed to find when I left the cinema that it had been such a long film as I'd been grabbed by it from the start.

Well worth seeing.
Visually stunning, hanging on Carice van Houten's beauty
OK so I saw this film a while ago, but I never had the time to review it, but now I do. This was probably the first Dutch film I've ever seen and to be honest I was quite pleased with it as well. I also like the language a lot, it kind of fascinates me. To me it was sort of German and English blended together and I enjoyed hearing it. It's very easy for your ears. Anyway, the movie itself tells about a Jewish woman, Rachel Stein, who during the World War II hides from the Nazis in The Netherlands. By different circumstances and accidents she joins a dutch resistance group and under a false name Ellis de Vries she becomes a spy at a German headquarters.

The story is all in all very interesting and the screenplay is very good. It includes so much plot twists that the movie is an exciting experience throughout. The story is very original too as it's not just another story about WW2. An interesting way of coming up with a plot based on WW2 and that is what also makes it so fascinating. Though there are some battle scenes the main focus isn't on them, it's totally on the story which also has enough depth in it to keep the viewer far away from bored. Directing is also very enjoyable, directed by Paul Verhoeven, it definitely compliments the story by being accurate and precise, having this good tempo and a great way of describing or showing things. There are probably a couple of unnecessary scenes included and although for example the nude scenes are supposed to be realistic the nudity is also pretty useless and it doesn't wake up any emotions in the viewer, being basically just unnecessary.

The best thing this movie has to offer is undeniably the role performance of Carice van Houten who plays the role of Rachel Stein aka Ellis de Vries. The movie pretty much hangs in the hands of van Houten, the role performance is simply superb and she just shines with her beauty. She is just so beautiful in the film that it makes the viewer adore her, probably even worship her. Being so real and so true she keeps the movie on its feet, being simply the definite glaze of the movie. Another role performance worth mentioning is the role performance done by Sebastian Koch, who plays the role of Ludwig Müntze, an SS-officer who meets Rachel at a train smuggling weapons. The meeting comes more important than Rachel thought, as when she becomes the spy at the German headquarters the headquarters is actually lead by Müntze. Koch is just so brilliant in the role. I thought he was more enjoyable in "Das Leben der Anderen" though, but there's nothing to complain about him in "Zwartboek" either.

What catches your eyes besides the beauty of Carice van Houten is how visually stunning the movie is. The use of colours is just magnificent and all the other visual sides are all in all an incredible achievement. I have to raise my hat for the whole art department and also the department responsible for the costume design, as that was also a pleasure for your eyes as well. The glaze of Carice van Houten actually makes me think of older movies and the first one coming up to my mind is "Casablanca" where Ingrid Bergman did pretty much the same thing, although these two movies can not be compared together, even when it comes to the beauty of van Houten and Bergman. Bergman's beauty is just so classic, when van Houten's represents the world today, although it is probably also going to be a classic after 50 years. At the moment comparing is just out of question. The music used in the film is very old fashioned and it just fits with the them so well, well it's based on WW2 after all. Composed by Anne Dudley it gives more of that realistic edge for the movie and by beautiful and gloomy compositions it's more than important, it's necessary. And it's brilliant.

"Zwartboek" is all in all a good movie. It had the chance of being much more than that, but it somehow goes wrong in some part. Not actually wrong, but it kind of looses it's flow, although it somehow is interesting throughout. Hard to explain really, but that's how it is. The movie is definitely worth watching though it isn't phenomenal. It doesn't have to be, as when being good a movie is always worth watching. If you want to recall the old times when movies were made with style and with a lead female actor who melted the hearts of men then this movie is definitely for you, though I could describe it as a modernized version. A good movie, a good achievement from Verhoeven.
Excellent WWII thriller
Saw it at Toronto Int. Film Festival with Paul Verhoeven and Carice van Houten on stage. This movie has Verhoeven's trademark stamp all over it. It's evident this film was a more personal project for him. Non stop action and good acting, especially from the lead actress, Carice van Houten. I've seen other films (American and French) about Resistance fighters during WWII, but non of them gripped me by the throat like this one. I admit Verhoeven is at times a bit heavy-handed, especially the sound effects of German machine guns, but the story never sags. It's a "By the seat of your pants" type of movie. After you leave the theater, the impact of the story stays with you for days. Go and see it when it comes to your local cinema in North America. I highly recommend it.
The first movie of Paul Verhoeven since more than 20 years could only turn out to be a disappointment. But fortunately it is not. It is a very impressive and exciting and dramatic story of a Jewish girl that gets involved in the Resistance-movement in World War 2. When she wants to escape the Germans she finds her family killed in front of her eyes. She is rescued and becomes an important member of the Dutch Resistance. She has to act like a spy at the headquarters of the SD and even has to sleep with the head of the SD, who happens to turn out to be the only good German in the movie. I won't tell you what happens, but the movie gives a very good impression of the terrors of war, what people do in these circumstances, the thin line between good and bad and betrayal. The movie was beautifully shot and Carice van Houten is incredible in this movie. Zwartboek is a typical Paul Verhoeven-movie with some nudity and heavy in your face-scenes and provocative and unexpected things that happen. Zwartboek could be the winner of the Oscars for foreign movies next year as far as I am concerned. Also a special credit for the German actor who plays general Franken. Go and see Zwartboek (Black Book): it's a movie that will keep you thinking for quite some while
An instant classic!
It's one of those movies I expected the least and surprised me the most, and it's always such a delight when it happened. This is one of the best movies I've seen in 2007. I didn't realize it's in Dutch till later (I thought it was a German movie because I recognized one of the actors from 'the lives of others', another favorite of mine in 2007). With no familiar faces in the movies, it has the look and feel of old classics. It's almost a pitch perfect movie except I personally felt the last 30 minutes could be a bit more taut. I have been avoiding Nazi/Jews movies in the past few years because I've seen so many and am tired of that kind of depressing stories, but the human conditions and emotions in this movies are so universal and relevant it drew me in. It's depressing, thrilling, and uplifting at the same time. There is no black and white morality in it and it is respectful to viewers' intelligence. It has the most memorable and lively and strong female character I haven't seen in movies for years. Many people compared this movie to 'Lust, Caution', I haven't seen it but already know it can't be better than this one, even I'm a big fan of Ang Lee. I wish people could pay more attention to good film like this, instead of honoring pretentious and melodramatic craps like 'atonement' that sort.
A Great Spy / Resistance film from the Dutch.
This story is based on true events. September 1944 to April 1945 in the Netherlands. Its in Dutch so its subtitled.

Its all about the Dutch resistance in W.W.II. As seen for one Jewish woman's point of view and what she must do to resist the German occupation. Its a boy's own adventure story and soon we are on an adventure at a fast pace on who is good and who is a traitor. With no Americans in the cast and not an American uniform in sight it allows people to know that others were involved in the war long before help arrived. I hope this movie does well in the USA because it deserves to be. Young men and women will enjoy the chase and love angle with fight scenes throughout the film. So you have to read subtitles, well they never spoke English to each other get over it. This war movie should not escape you its fun. Its shot like a Hollywood film like days long gone don't miss it!
All surface, no feeling
Shout it from the roof-tops: after years spent churning out enjoyable action movies (Total Recall, Robocop), iconic "erotic thrillers" (Basic Instinct) and utter, utter tripe (Showgirls, Hollow Man, Starship Troopers), Paul Verhoeven has turned Serious. Out go the overwrought action sequences, the gratuitous nudity and the obsession with bodily fluids. In come the sensitivity, the subtlety, the delicate touch that a film about Jews and Nazis in WWII surely require. Just kidding. Verhoven couldn't be subtle if his life depended on it. Sensitivity? Get real. Delicate touch? This is war. And what a curious war it is. People – even the most downtrodden – wear immaculate, brand-new clothes straight out of the wardrobe department. Our heroine gets shot in the head, and her charming little scar lasts almost two entire scenes before it is dispensed with altogether. Most ludicrously of all, when a man takes a bullet in the shoulder he is advised not to worry – "it's just a flesh wound". Ah yes, the old flesh wound routine. Cue close-up of pincers extracting said bullet from said flesh. Seconds later, the fortunate victim is up and about and back to his usual self. Wonderful things, flesh wounds. Verhoeven has obviously seen the same recent war films that everyone else has. Unfortunately he has not learned anything from them. He is still labouring under the impression that nudity, obscenity, and endless violence are the hallmarks of seriousness and profundity. Anyone who might disagree with him just doesn't get it. Don't you know the man is an Artist? Don't you know that nothing can compromise his unyielding vision? What Spielberg and Polanski understood instinctively when it was their turn to tackle WWII was that while the horror demanded to be shown, there had to be more than that. Humanity was what they brought to the table, and their audiences left the cinema reeling because they had seen something recognisable and terrible. Verhoeven doesn't seem to care about humanity at all. Perhaps he prefers robots, and guns, and Michael Douglas. He seems unaware of what actually happens to a person when they go through violence and torment and abuse. His doll-like heroine starts the film as she ends it – unaffected by the vile events that have occurred. But if she is unaffected, what about us? If none of these things seem to actually matter, then what are we doing sitting through them? I can imagine well enough, thank you, what it might look like when you pour a vat of faeces over a half-naked actress. But how does it feel? What effect will it have on the character? None, apparently: the sh*t happens, and in the very next scene she is back to her old self – blonde and bubbly and perfect. So, that's alright then. She sees her entire family wiped out by Nazis – an event that supposedly drives her to seek revenge - but she doesn't seem particularly to miss them or care about them once they are gone. So why should we? Clearly, Verhoeven wants to make his own Schindler, his own Pianist. What he has created instead is a shrill mish-mash of grotesquery and camp. He will, I am sure, condemn anyone who has the gall to laugh at inappropriate moments during his very important movie. My favourite such moment came early on when the Comedy Nazi, looking down on the grisly results of his handiwork, said, in close-up, one simple word: "Excellent". My laughter was a genuine, human response to a terrible event rendered banal by a bad artist. When Verhoeven sticks to action-packed blockbusters he is on safe ground. As soon as he tries to be Important he is doomed. No doubt he will say of his detractors that they just don't understand what he is doing. On the contrary, I understand perfectly well – I just wish he would stop doing it. The Black Book is all surface, no feeling. Nothing hurts, nothing matters: it's just a flesh wound.

Update, April 2007. I wrote the above after seeing the film at the London Film Festival in October 2006. It is reassuring to see that my favourite film critic, Anthony Lane, would seem to agree with many of the points I made back then. (April 9th, 2007 issue of the New Yorker)
Ontological Forge: Through The Fire
Spoilers Ahead:

This, for me, ends the debate on Verhoeven. I was not a fan of Starship Troopers but that was the only film of his I didn't like. His Total Recall and RoboCop are miles above the tragic remakes by the lobotomized. This was the first truly serious movie of his I have ever seen; I found her tragic, perilous journey quite compelling. Yes, they did do what they show to collaborators. When I read so many ill- informed attacks on this film, many of then are predicated on Americans who cannot even tell you the basic facts of their own history. Yes, they did shave their heads and pour feces on them, pick up a book without people wearing capes. Koch is one of Germany's greatest actors; if you would really like to appreciate him watch The Lives Of Others which shows the joy of living under the Stasi, the East German Secret Police. Here, he gives his Nazi character such complexity that you will, involuntarily, find yourself sympathizing with him. Yes, his fellow officer is a loathsome, repulsive swine but these characters are drawn with the same complexity that is so typical in non- American cinema. Like Flame and Citron, from Denmark, these are not comic book characters. Even Von Houten is not drawn as a 'saintly victim.' She gets lost in her mission to use Muntze and faces carefully cloaked anti-semitism from her own resistance cell. One of the best scenes to reveal this is where Jewish lives don't quite seem as valuable as Danish Lives.

The movie follows her hiding, losing her family to a traitor who sells them out to the Nazis, and finally infiltrating the Nazis posing as a Nazi sympathizing collaborating girlfriend to Koch's Muntze. The attraction of this movie is the authenticity of the complexity of human nature; I will not spoil it for you, suffice to say, war puts the greatest of all strains on the human proclivity to sacrifice others' lives for one's own safety and even aggrandizement. Here, you watch her trust being painfully extirpated the hard way. Though she be Jewish, the price of her hiding is to memorize a New Testament verse and recite it, like a performing monkey, before the family or no supper. The delineation of the underground is so realistic. This realism is carried into the portrayal of the Nazi hierarchy where we discover that the sadistic subordinate of Muntz is already busy lining his pockets with ill gotten money and goodies taken off fleeing Jews rather than promoting National Socialism.

Movies sometimes achieve a level of realism, like The Sand Pebbles, where you feel like you were transported into another time and place, this is such a movie. The movie gave me such a respect for Verhoeven. When you read lots of the above attacks, remember that only 30% of Americans can even name a country that was involved in WW2. Please, read your history first before embarrassing yourself. Good Heavens, the History Channel shows footage of women paraded exactly like is depicted in this movie. Koch is a treasure and provides such support to this movie, acting-wise, as he did in Lives of Others. The movie is worth watching; it is often ugly, violent and unpleasant. However, you will experience a reality that is well delineated. The precarious balance of civilization that exists in peacetime is upset quite severely here. Soon, like Van Houten, you will not know whom to trust or which person is good or evil. Other than Muntz's sadistic subordinate, all the other characters, including Rachel, are very complex, interwoven dichotomies of light and darkness.

What the movie suffers from, in its fading star, is Zeitgeist Dissonance. Here, in flaccid, fatuous, corpulent peacetime, this reality, to the illiterate, seems absurd. The incongruence is so profound that you will read, in much of the above attacks, assertions that you can see in the documentary record of liberation the exact scenes they claim are 'phony' or contrived. An Excellent Movie.

"Those Who Cannot Remember The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It." George Santayana
Very strong film with classy acting performances and action to keep your attention
Although Paul Verhoeven became somewhat discredited in his later years in Hollywood, his work has always contained a touch - or more - of irony. In some cases this seemingly extended to attempting reverse psychology on Republican supporters - as in Starship Troopers and Robo Cop. Of course, it didn't work.

So for his return to the Netherlands, this film was a surprise. Its lasting sensation is one of melancholy: how can a species which creates such beauty and love also create so much sadness and horror? Irony is in there, yes. But it's used with a much more delicate touch as a tool to search for something deeper.

Through tracing the best and worst of what people can do in a period in which everything is apparently senseless, Paul V and his scriptwriter are trying to look for the core of what it to be human. For that, I think it is a good film. This, not Babel, should be a candidate for the Best Film Academy Award - at least best foreign language film.

The acting is strong, too. In particular the heroine is not only breathtaking in her beauty and charm, she has also put together what I believe is one of the best acting performances I have seen for a long, long time. No artificially puckered brow, no 'actoooor' persona, just straight communication of emotion and more. The other players are also solid - all the main Dutch and German characters are well played, with particular credit going to the lawyer - a wonderfully ambiguous performance.

It works on many levels, too. For the more superficially inclined there is plenty of (well shot) action, pulling few punches. There is also plenty of intrigue for whodunnit lovers. And of course, there are some very attractive actors who clearly enjoy expressing their sensuality on (and I gather, off) screen.
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