Black BookSeptember 14, 2006
In the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II, a Jewish singer infiltrates the regional Gestapo headquarters for the Dutch resistance.
Release Year: 2006
Rating: 7.9/10 (36,327 voted)
Critic's Score: 71/100
Stars: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman
Israel 1956. Rachel, a Jew, rather unexpectedly meets an old friend at the kibbutz where is she 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.
Writers: Paul Verhoeven, Gerard Soeteman
Carice van Houten
Ellis de Vries
Derek de Lint
Dolf de Vries
Notary Wim Smaal
Johnny de Mol
To fight the enemy, she must become one of them.
Release Date: 14 September 2006
Filming Locations: 's-Gravenhage, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: €682,184
(17 September 2006)
(27 May 2007)
Did You Know?
The movie was almost canceled in 2004, when many of the (foreign) companies that had promised to fund the movie, had not yet paid up. Production was abruptly green-lit again in the autumn of 2005, when the 16 million Euro budget was finally secured. This allowed the production team only a couple of months for principal photography.
During the gala party held at German headquarters, the drummer is playing a natural wood-finish Premier (British) drum set manufactured in the 1980's-1990's. A period drum set from the mid 1940's would probably have been a white-pearl finish and the drum sizes, hardware and positioning would have been altogether different.
We will kill that girl! However, wherever, whenever.
Sometimes, You Have to Hide in Plain Sight…
Who said that they don't make films like they used to? A couple of
weeks ago, I declared that "The Departed" was the best film of 2006.
Last week, I replaced the Scorsese epic with Sofia Coppola's luscious
biopic of "Marie Antoinette". I never would have guessed that Paul
Verhoeven (Yes, the Paul Verhoeven who directed "Total Recall", "Basic
Instinct" & "Showgirls"!!!) would challenge them both with a gripping,
edge-of-your-seat World War II yarn.
I use the old-fashioned term, yarn, because "Black Book" is very much a
film that feels like it was made decades ago. The lush visuals,
orchestral music, European styling, wartime romanticism and
cliffhanging chapters all add a certain 1950's charm to the
white-knuckle plot. One gets the feeling that the ghosts of Gregory
Peck, Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, Spencer Tracy & Jean Harlow are
embodying the cast of this classic espionage drama.
The film begins in 1956 with Rachel Steinn, a school teacher at an
Israeli kibbutz, being accidentally found by an old acquaintance, who
is on vacation with her husband. The meeting brings back painful
wartime memories and Rachel heads to a quiet place by the river to
recollect our central story.
So back we travel, to occupied Holland, circa 1944, and we see a more
youthful Rachel, diligently practicing a bible passage in order to earn
a meal from the family who is hiding her from the Germans. She, like
many Jews at that time, were surviving by any means necessary in order
to outlast the Nazi tyranny. However, one day, while flirting with a
young man sailing on the nearby lake, her safe zone is destroyed in one
fell swoop by a low flying bomber. Rachel is immediately on the run,
aided by her new sailor friend.
So much of this film relies on surprises and shocking twists that it
would be unfair of me to detail too many plot threads. And my goodness,
there are a tons of them. This is truly a definitive epic, in every
cinematic sense of the word. Rachel is crossed and doubled-crossed and
triple-crossed, eventually winding up as a member of the famed
Resistance. Via cunning and fortunate circumstance, she manages to
transform herself into Ellis de Vries, a blond bombshell who
infiltrates the German command in the area. She uses a quick wit, a
gorgeous voice, some feminine charms and a collection of Queen
Wilhelmina stamps to crawl her way into the arms of Herr Müntze
From deep within the Nazi camp, she is able to strategically plant a
microphone and to use tidbits of acquired knowledge in order to provide
the Resistance with vital information and plans. While evolving into a
brave spy, she must learn how to reconcile her own personal vendettas
and her surprising romantic feelings for Müntze.
There are no more exciting themes for me in movies than tragic romance,
espionage and escape. I have loved them all with a passion ever since I
was a small child. Throw in a magnificent screenplay, marvelous
cinematography, a plot that churns along with the efficiency of a Swiss
watch, and the added bonus of a gorgeous actress — the result is sure
to be a huge winner for me. "Black Book" satisfies everything that I
truly want from a film. It is the reason I go to the movies. I was
utterly swept away by the intrigue, drama, romance and tragedy. This
emotionally weighty film even manages to deliver a few wonderfully
witty moments to break the supreme tension of it all.
The cast is immense. Every one of them exudes authenticity. It is one
of the best ensembles of the year. However, I struggle to call it an
ensemble because it would be ignoring one of the singular performances
in recent memory. Carice Van Houten is not a household name to most.
She is a Dutch beauty who, if this role is anything to go by, is on the
verge of a magnificent career. Her grasp on the emotional turmoil of
Rachel/Ellis is of profound proportions. It is a stunning turn that
flatly demands award consideration. The range on display in this movie
is astonishing. Rarely have I ever been as moved by a character's
heroism and charm and guile and wits. She is able to create a
sympathetic creature… one that we will root for until the end… one
that we trust and believe in.
I cannot leave this review without admitting to my utter admiration for
Paul Verhoeven, a director whose films I have often enjoyed and panned
in equal measures. This is the work of his lifetime. It is the film he
should list above all others on his résumé. This is a thoughtful,
poignant and tremendously thrilling adventure. For attentive viewers,
the final scenes of the film act as a provocative meditation on the
relationships between war and justice, peace and insularity, the
actions of the past and the promises of the future. "Black Book
(Zwartboek)" is not only a riveting WWII adventure, but a superb
contrast of morality -vs- reality.
TC Candler IndependentCritics.com