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Black Book (10/10)

by Tony Medley

I’m coming to the conclusion that one of the main reasons I don’t like long movies is that most of the long movies I see are American-made. A couple of days ago I was forced to sit through “Breach,” which was an exercise in a director’s failed effort to create tension.

Last night I watched director Paul Verhoeven’s two-hour twenty-five minute story set in the Dutch underground resistance in 1944 during the Nazi occupation. Verhoeven knows how to create tension and maintain it for almost two and a half hours. I never once thought to look at my watch.

Rachel Stein/Ellis (Carice Van Houten) is a beautiful singer with an effervescent personality who has been forced underground because she is Jewish. She gets help from an old family friend, Mr. Small (Dolf de Vries), an attorney. I’m not going to tell the story because that’s what you are going to the movie to see. Suffice it to say, she becomes involved in the resistance movement, the Nazis, Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch), who is the head of the Dutch SD fighting the Resistance, love, and perfidy. Rachel/Ellis is a composite of real resistance fighters Esmée van Eeghen, Kitty ten Have, and artist Dora Paulsen.

In addition to Van Houten, Koch, and de Vries, there are fine performance throughout the cast, including Waldemar Kobus in an exceptional take as SD officer Franken, the blood-thirsty and ruthless hunter of Jews, and Christian Berkel as the cold-blooded, ruthless SS general Käunter.

Verhoeven and co-writer Gerard Soeteman read between 700 and 800 documents over a period of 40 years to produce this film. Soeteman wrote the original draft and several subsequent drafts. Verhoeven said, “I then add things and change things, scenes as well as characters…I have made a significant contribution to the script.”

Van Houten gives a courageous, scintillating performance. There is a lot of nudity, including male and female frontal. There is one deplorable scene of Rachel and her friend Ronnie (Halina Reijn) going to the bathroom and cleaning themselves that was gratuitous. There is no reason why the scenes couldn’t have been of them primping in front of the mirror instead of doing their business. There’s another of a Nazi urinating, that is equally unnecessary. But those are the only parts of the movie of which I feel critical. It’s a captivating story of high adventure and danger on a very personal level that starts with high tension that continues to increase throughout.

In Dutch, German, English, and Hebrew.