Black Book

Year: 2006
Production Co: Fu Works
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writer: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch
Paul Verhoeven doing a period film about the struggles of a young Jewish woman who joins the Dutch resistance and ingratiates herself into the graces of a local Nazi officer – the result was always going to be Merchant Ivory by way of Wicked Pictures.

That means a lot of heartbreaking loss and desperation, the muddy ruins of Europe at the end of the war, and the heroine dyeing her pubic hair on camera before energetically sleeping with several of the male cast.

The result was always going to be intriguing. Verhoeven is the most interesting mix of European and American moviemaking styles, and having lived through the fear of the Nazi advance through Europe as a child, he's uniquely qualified to make this film.

But with his background in movies as cool as Robocop and Starship Troopers, he can not only command considerable special effects and action budgets but knows how to wrangle them. It's his version of Phillip Noyce's Rabbit Proof Fence, his coming-home movie – with more explosions and sex.

Carice van Houten is his muse as Rachel/Ellis, whose family is wiped out in a clandestine river crossing to safe territory that's sold out by a corrupt cop to a Nazi patrol. She finds her way to the underground to fight back and makes her way into the stately offices of the local party officials as a secretary, embarking on an affair with an empathetic officer and finding the pig-like officer who killed her family.

While she lives on a knife-edge at work, even more double crosses, subterfuge and intrigue follow her at her home base of freedom fighters, and how she gets through it all with her life is a miracle.

It's pure Verhoeven, as occasionally trashy as it is authentic and heart-breaking. He doesn't pass up any opportunity to show a naked van Houten laying herself across her lover's body or semi-naked and splattered with raw effluent but it's as effective and dramatic as any anti-war statement set in World War Two.

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