Black Book Paul Verhoeven

Paul Verhoeven, king of the cynical blockbuster (Robocop, Showgirls), turns in a black-hearted directorial performance in a film that’s guaranteed to wipe the goofy smile off your face. Returning to his Holland stomping grounds, he details a WWII saga without the cheap heroism and sentimental goo. Our heroine is Rachel (Carice Van Houten), a Jewish singer who’s plunged into chaos when her safe house is bombed and she has to take shelter with some suspicious Resistance types. A chance encounter with SD head Munze (Sebastian Koch of The Lives of Others) gives her an in to become a Mata Hari for the cause but Munze turns out to be the only sympathetic character in a place full of Nazi scum, while it takes very little to bring the latent anti-Semitism of the Resistance to the fore. Though a romance between a Jew and a Nazi seems a little skeezy, the film counters with a total refusal to give any group moral superiority. Along with the usual German monsters are various profiteers who come in the guise of assistance, while hateful nationalist sentiments bubble under the fight for freedom. Nobody except the spectacularly put-upon heroine gets away clean in this movie, with a Liberation Day sequence that is jaw-dropping in its contempt for the home country and, ahem, certain Canadian military functionaries. Movies have become so mealy-mouthed and gutless that Black Book comes as a breath of wonderful foul air. It is a film that’s so convinced of the world’s horror that it can only affirm life by comparison. It’s the flick of the moment and you miss it at your peril. (Mongrel Media)