Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > WWII > Nazis > Genocide > Black Book (aka Zwartboek/2006/Sony Blu-ray)

Black Book (aka Zwartboek/2006/Blu-ray)


Picture: A-     Sound: A-     Extras: C+     Film: B



For a long time, Paul Verhoeven was making films inspired by brutal living in Holland and that always involved WWII.  Even when he came to America, where his films became colder, darker and more cynical, the result was an anti-fascist streak that informed the dangers of corporations in commercial fare like Robocop and Total Recall (see the Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) as well as a U.S. Government gone totally fascist in Starship Troopers.  However, his brutal Dutch film Soldier Of Orange was the most realistic and explicit of these expressions until recently.  Black Book marks his return to his homeland and the resulting film is pretty good.


Reteaming with Soldier Of Orange co-writer Gerald Soeteman, a Jewish singer named Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) somehow manages to survive a fatal group attack.  Joining the Dutch Resistance to the Nazi-occupied Netherlands and going on a mission to possibly save some of the members captured by The Nazis, she dyes her hair blonde and pretends to be part of the whole Nazi/Aryan movement, but also wants to seek vengeance for those killed.  She falls for a Nazi Captain (Sebastian Koch from the also-impressive The Lives Of Others, reviewed elsewhere on this site in Blu-ray and DVD) who falls for her… and finds out her secret.  He decides to keep it, but there is a traitor in her organization and now, anything can happen.


This film can be very suspenseful and very brutal, pulling no punches on what the Nazis were like and for its boldness, is as much a critique of their methods as Pasolini’s Salo or other brutal films about fascism that in themselves are acts of courage.  The Nazis were this brutal in his Soldier Of Orange and his point of view about them has not grown dim in the least.  His is a very strong cast and Verhoeven proves that he can leave commercial filmmaking behind and deliver the kind of important, serious film that is as relevant now as ever.  But there are some complications.


Verhoeven is in this position where he is trying to go back home, but some of the style he developed only in his U.S. work is now a permanent part of his directing psyche and it shows here in odd ways.  The sexuality (gay, straight, depraved and otherwise) that seemed so naturalistic and raw in his early Dutch films is now tinged with a strange sense of phoniness that was on overdrive display in Showgirls (reviewed elsewhere on this site).  He is being sincere and some graphic and wild scenes certainly secure the film its rating, but most critics have not forgiven him for Showgirls (which I did not like, but from which he recovered quickly in follow-up films) and they held it against this film to the extent it did not have the commercial and critical success it deserved.


That special brand of coldness crosses over into the most serious issues of genocide and what drives each character, throwing the film off.  I bet if he made this before coming to the U.S., it would have been a better film and he actually wanted to do a WWII film before settling for Starship Troopers (told a WWII film would never make money pre-Saving Private Ryan) so he is finally getting to do another film on the subject.  What saves the film is his brutal attack on The Nazis at a time when such behavior has become palatable, which makes Black Book much more of a winner than most film on the subject of late despite its limits.  Compare to fluff like Shining Through and you’ll realize how bold this all really is.



The 1080p digital 1.85 X 1 High Definition image on the Blu-ray was shot by Director of Photography Karl Walter Lindenlaub, A.S.C., B.V.K., in Super 35mm and it is one of the best-looking such productions in a while.  Verhoeven has not made a scope film since Showgirls, but the use of the frame is far superior.  Color is solid and complex in its application, detail is very good for the Super 35 format, you can see the money on the screen and Lindenlaub (Stargate, Independence Day, The Jackal) delivers a film that feels like a world lived in and darkly at that.


As is the case with all Verhoeven films, the sound design is often superior.  The PCM 16/48 5.1 mix is as superior, state-of-the-art and aggressive as all of his Hollywood productions have been (Starship Troopers and Hollow Man rank among the best to date) and the mix has exceptional character.  There are minor flaws in soundstage accuracy, but they are negligible.  The combination is demonstration quality and puts the many shallow, over-digitized, hundred-million-dollar, color desaturated disasters that keep getting produced.


Extras include a making of featurette and yet another must-hear feature length audio commentary by Verhoeven explaining his approach to making the film.  Sometimes it is very informative, but other times, it can be unintentionally funny.  Still, he is a better filmmaker than he gets credit for being and every commentary track he does (alone or not) is a gem.


I once pointed out to some associates that since arriving in the U.S., there has been an interesting correlation between Verhoeven and the film of Stanley Kubrick.  With Kubrick sadly no longer with us, when I heard about this project, I immediately thought of an abandoned Kubrick project.  Louis Begley’s amazing novel Wartime Lies was the basis for his anti-Holocaust/anti-Nazi project, The Aryan Papers, also involving a female lead passing for a Nazi, but to simply survive their murderous invasion of Poland.  Schindler’s List finally convinced him to drop the project, depressing as it was to him.  However, these stories need to be told, especially now more than ever when certain sinister types would love to bury the truth.  In even making such a film, it is one thing no one can take away from Verhoeven.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com