Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Black Book

(Zwartboek, Netherlands, 2006)

Paul Verhoeven has directed and co-written a real old-timey war movie, refreshingly seen not from the American viewpoint, but that of an occupied country, Holland. There’s lots of action, some of it fairly improbable, but as long as you can keep moving with characters I’m interested in that’s okay. Rachel (Carice van Houten) is a Jew in Holland in 1944. Trying to flee to allied lines with her family, she is the only survivor of an SS massacre. From there it’s a mile a minute. She’s plucky as hell, a little flighty, but able to do what has to be done when it’s needed. She joins the resistance and is asked to sleep with the commander of the Dutch Gestapo (or the S.D., the Sicherheitsdienst, I wasn’t clear, though it hardly makes any difference), and finds herself falling for him. He seems to be a good man. Hell, he collects stamps. This is the only part of the movie that didn’t ring true for me. Not that he might have some decency—though that quality was as rare as ethics in Congress in the Gestapo—but that she could overlook his job, which was rounding up Jews. Whatever. It’s true that Rachel does seem to have a sixth sense as to who she can trust. The only time it fails her, the untrustworthy one took in everyone else in the Resistance, too. It’s a well-made, good-looking, exciting and old-fashioned (in the best sense) war movie. And it has one of the more satisfying endings I’ve ever seen. Nasty, but satisfying.
One thing irked me. At the beginning we get 5 minutes of Rachel on a kibbutz in Israel in 1955. Then we flash back. My feeling is, you need a really good reason to justify doing this, because it removes any tension you might feel as to whether or not she will survive. There was no reason that I could see. I would have cut it.
Carice van Houten is just as cute as can be. She’s mostly worked in Holland so far, but had a breakout role (as far an international recognition goes, anyway; I don’t mean to belittle the Dutch film industry) when she played Tom Cruise’s wife in Valkyrie. It seems to have gotten her some notice, as she now has five English films in various stages of production. (Like most Dutch people, she is fluent in English … and German and French. You know, we don’t teach our kids shit here in the USA.) I think she could be a big star.
And I keep coming back to that SS business. In my opinion, the SS was possibly the most purely evil organization ever invented by man. They were the ones in charge of the death camps. If I had been Eisenhower in 1945, liberating the camps, I would have taken the SS, every man Heinz of them, lined them up from Berlin to Paris and then asked for Jewish volunteers to shoot them in the head. Every one, from PFC to Supreme Obergruppenfuhrer. No Nuremberg trials, no lawyers, no nothing. Shoot ‘em dead. I would have let their corpses rot by the side of the road, and marched the whole German population down that road and to the mass graves at Dachau. But then, I guess that’s why nobody ever suggested I be Allied Supreme Commander. I don’t have the political will to forgive top Nazis when it’s expedient. Hell, I don’t have it in me to forgive any aspect of the Holocaust.