Verhoeven tones down effects, ups questions of morality
by Boyd van Hoeij
Black Book [+see also:
film profile], the new film from Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, is the much-anticipated return to his native Netherlands after 20 years in Hollywood, where he was known for his effects-laden blockbusters. The Venice Competition entry is also a return to territory similar to his 1977 film Soldier of Orange.
In Venice, Verhoeven explained that while researching that film he came across a lot of material that showed a side of Dutch involvement in the war that was not exactly glorious, but which could not be made to fit with the film’s patriotic tone. Almost 30 years later, Verhoeven has finally been able to use that material, for what he calls a return to "a moral story that does not focus on special effects".
Black Book follows Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), a Jewish girl in the Dutch resistance who is asked to seduce a German Nazi official (Sebastian Koch) as part of her duty. Both are forced to re-evaluate some of their assumptions about one another, while the reverse also holds true for some of the Dutch.
"Not everyone was a hero during the war," says Verhoeven. This moral quagmire treads grounds similar to the "humanised Hitler" debates that surrounded Hirschbiegel’s Downfall [+see also:
interview: Bernd Eichinger
interview: Joachim Fest
interview: Oliver Hirschbiegel
film profile], though Verhoeven’s film is more melodramatic (in an interesting casting "coup", Christian Berkel played a sympathetic Nazi doctor in Downfall and plays the Nazi villain here).
The director thinks that "people are the same everywhere, in all times" and, as such, the story, which is based on true events (though many characters are combinations of several people), tells of the cruelty and absurd realities of war that were true as much in 1945 as they are today.
It will be released this month in the Netherlands by A-Film. Other distributors include Pathé (France, Switzerland), Alternative Films (Belgium), Odeon S.A. (Greece), Tartan Distribution (UK) and DNC in Italy.
International sales are being handled by Content International.