I downloaded Black Book, watching the first five minutes, a meditative look on a couple on a docked sailboat looking out to their doom. Four years later, Adam Nayman introduced the movie at the Free Friday Films, accurately calling it ‘tasteless and irreverent,’ making me give him a look that I hope didn’t seem disrespectful.
Director Paul Verhoeven was talking about this film on TV, mentioning Franken (Waldemar Kobus), the ruthless SS, a character apparently softened because he’s also a voracious lover who plays the piano. No, not really.
Carice van Houten isn’t the world’s most beautiful woman, although I thought she was between the time I saw Valkyrie and the time I saw this film. In Valkyrie her eyes pop like a German Vivien Leigh, leaving an immeasurable impression despite that bit part. This movie hides her real beauty behind different hair colours, which makes sense with the disguises used by her Jewish character Rachel/Ellis, a singer turned spy for the Dutch Resistance. Her face looks skinnier here too. And why would I be looking at her face if she’s naked for a few scenes?
She and Verhoeven make interesting choices with Ellis, who isn’t trying to hide her disgust or aloofness within the presence of the SS she eventually pretends to work for, funny because those same SS have a hand in shooting down her family. She’s not your typical heroine who has a poker face until the last minute. She occasionally throws up, yells and cries. She tells the truth to her mission subject turned boss turned lover Muntze (Sebastian Koch), and pulls herself together.
This movie is full of ambushes and escapes in a war on an occupied home front, with so many plot twists that I worried for Ellis’ well-being. Is she strong enough to withstand the forces against her? It also makes us wonder about but believe the characters’ changing allegiances, especially with Ellis’ chemistry with Muntze. It also covers, although obscenely, the hypocrisies, sadism and racism of people fighting on both sides. Every character has a sin, and with the solidly flowing revelations and plot twists, I couldn’t look away.