Zwartboek (Paul Verhoeven, 2006)

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Zwartboek, directed by Paul Verhoeven (a.k.a. Black book, 2006).

Score: sober.

The Hague, near the end of Nazi occupation. Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) is a young Jewish singer from a wealthy family; when the Christian family who was hiding her dies in a bombing, she is approached by police officer Van Gein (Peter Blok), who offers to take her to Allied territory. She takes a loan from her father’s lawyer Smaal (Dolf de Vries) and reunites with her family, but the barge they’re travelling in is raided by a nazi boat and everyone is killed except for Rachel. She decides to join the resistance, led by Hans Akkermans (Thom Hoffman), dyes her hair and adopts the name Ellis de Vries. After some of her comrades are arrested by the Gestapo, she decides she must seduce SS Colonel Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch) in order to save them.

On one level, Zwartboek is an exciting thriller with spies, double agents, deceit and strategy. Every character must make choices and take chances, not only in the context of war, but also looking at how their actions will be judged when the Allies eventually win the war. Ellis learns that the attack on the barge which killed her entire family was far from being a coincidence, but she can’t start to imagine how convoluted the truth about it is.

On another level, Zwartboek is a war movie, and one that focuses on a topic that is not frequently discussed, especially as World War II is frequently considered the good war: how in civil wars, or occupations, your friends, neighbours and acquaintances will make decisions you despise or show their true colours, and once the war is over and strife is no longer coercing people, there can and will be consequences.

Ellis’ feelings towards Müntze are not spelled out for us. Has she fallen in love with him? Does she just respect him, or feel sympathy for him? Does she think she’s a good man, despite the circumstances? Does she separate the personal from the political? When the war is over, she barely makes any effort to deny she was a collaborationist, despite the fact that she was in the resistance all along. One great virtue of this movie is the way it portrays grey and grey morality in the context of something as fucked up as war.

To wrap it up, an exciting thriller and an interesting reflection on the controversy between resistance and collaborationists in the occupied Netherlands.

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