Black Book

    1 of 1 2 of 1
      Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Starring Carice van Houten and Sebastian Koch. In English, Dutch, and German with English subtitles. Rated 14A.

      This might well be the best movie ever made about the Second World War resistance movement, as well as the least compromising. Back in Holland again and working with long-time artistic collaborator Gerard Soeteman (who cowrote all of the director's best pictures, before the latter moved to Hollywood to make dreck like Showgirls), Paul Verhoeven has not just returned to form, but crafted an out-and-out masterpiece. Indeed, Black Book is now the yardstick by which all future fictional takes on this subject must be measured.

      The hero of the piece is Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), a dark-haired cabaret singer who drifts into a Dutch underground cell after her family is massacred in late 1944 by corrupt Nazis and local opportunists. Even among the hardened Stalinists and Christians with whom she now fights, however, anti-Semitism is far from absent. To prove her patriotism, Rachel agrees to cozy up to a local Nazi leader (Sebastian Koch), a task that obliges her to bleach her pubic hair as well as her scalp in order to fulfill her new role as Aryan secretary/whore.

      Ironically, as victory approaches, Stein's undercover situation becomes ever more perilous.

      On the other hand, in Gestapo headquarters, she discovers that not every German (her stamp-loving lover, for instance) is a monster and not every fifth columnist is a convinced fascist. (The fun-loving Ronnie does more to keep her out of harm's way than do many of her erstwhile allies.)

      Trying to figure out who's trustworthy and who isn't here makes spotting the good guys and the bad guys on 24 look simple. Other perks include an extremely suspenseful script, a liberating army of Canadians (for a change!), and the film's courage to maintain that, even after 1945, Jews had no very good reason to trust the gentile world (hence the prologue and epilogue, set in Israel, circa 1956).

      Black Book is smart, brave, and stirring. It is one of those rare movies in which the lines between education, entertainment, and art disappear altogether.