Black Book (Zwartboek) - Directed by Paul Verhoeven - released last year in the Netherlands has travelled well so far and continues to pull audiences as it is released across the world.
As a British national who lived comfortably for three years in Amsterdam, this film gave me an insight into a different Holland to the one I knew. A period of Dutch history came to life.
I had avoided going to see the house where Anne Frank hid because I had read her book, and hated that someone as sensitive as she seemed had suffered so much. I never wanted to visit the place where she was forced to retreat to before she was killed. Verhoeven does not permit you to avoid any detail of the reality of what life and death was like for a Dutch Jew during the Occupation. It's a rollercoaster of a film.
I was not surprised to learn that actress Carice van Houten, who played the lead female, and Sebastien Koch, in the role of her German lover, were actually "long term companions" in real life. The chemistry between them fizzed and the sex scenes were tender. We are all human and vulnerable underneath our different uniforms, and sex is a great leveller.
Actress Carice van Houten was luminous in this film. We watched her character change from the girlish Rebecca to hard-faced beauty Ellis, who used everything she had to survive. And all she had really were good looks, courage, and the ability to adapt quickly.
Verhoeven: a 'breast man'
Verhoeven is known for breaking film boundaries in his portrayal of sex and violence. His 1992 Basic Instinct, the other one of his films I've seen, shocked and enthralled me. Black Book is not so shocking, but it is exciting. What the two films share is a mesmerizing performance by the female lead, unrelenting, nail-biting tension and a twisting plot that keeps you hooked.
Of course, you also cannot really compare a fantasy 'sex and murder thriller' such as Basic Instinct, which was filmed with American actors, to a Second World film, based on real events, set in The Netherlands and supported by a Dutch/German and Hebrew cast.
And the sex? To quote Verhoeven in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, 12 January 2007: "Of course there are nude scenes… I'm Dutch!". And, without doubt, from the many times the camera focussed on Van Houten's especially beautiful breasts, a 'breast man'.
And the violence? Well, to be expected in a film about war. Bear in mind Verhoeven is now in his early 70s. He was a small boy living in occupied Holland who witnessed and remembers violence, reprisals, bodies in the street, burning houses and an atmosphere of danger. Verhoeven is sharing personal memories with us and there is a pure, boyish excitement running through the film.
A Dutch view
Dutch press may be divided about Black Book, but it is commercially the most successful Dutch film yet made as well as the most expensive.
I asked a Dutch friend and her mother what they thought of the film and both were positive.
Inge van Meijer (41):
"Excellent film. It was long, about two and a half hours and filled with so much detail. I would like to go and see it again. This time watching it with the knowledge of who the collaborator is from the start."
Her mother, Hella van Meijer (72):
"A Dutch friend and contemporary told me to go and see it. His father was a Dutch Jew who ended up in a concentration camp after coming into contact with a Dutchman who offered to help him leave the Netherlands, for money, and then turned out to be collaborating with the Nazis. This of course was exactly the plot of the film and so my friend had to see it. He told me it was violent with sex scenes, but that it captured the feeling of the time and I should see it. I am glad I did."
If you see the film at a cinema in the Netherlands you'll only find the original version, which is principally in the Dutch and German language with some English and Hebrew. Should you prefer to view the film with English subtitles you won't need to wait long, the DVD is being released on 26 April 2008.
21 March 2007
Iona Mackay Gunn saw the Film Zwartboek at a cinema in Edinburgh and was so inspired that she decided to write this review for Expatica.
[Copyright Expatica 2007]
Subject: Dutch film
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