In Black Book, about the Dutch Resistance in World War II, the filmmaker Paul Verhoeven brings the brisk pacing of his Hollywood fantasies to the weightier themes of his early European features





You can't help admiring the candor of a filmmaker willing to call one of his most successful releases "nonsense." The film was Basic Instinct (1992), a blockbuster that provoked protests from gay activists over what they saw as dangerously negative stereotyping. It seems they took the movie more seriously than its director, Paul Verhoeven. In an interview on the DVD, Verhoeven says that Basic Instinct — which nods to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) — is well made, but that the Joe Eszterhas script is hardly realistic. Why on earth, Verhoeven asks, does its ice-pick-wielding murderess go around killing people, except perhaps to show that she can?

Verhoeven's latest effort, Black Book, his first Dutch film since 1983, is an even more viscerally thrilling piece of moviemaking. ...

In Black Book, a story line loosely based on historical events — there was supposedly a real black book implicating traitors — gets the Hollywood treatment, with Wild West shootouts and swelling music. Its star, van Houten, epitomizes old Hollywood glamour, a point underlined when one character compares her to Jean Harlow and another to Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931), the story of an exotic dancer executed as a spy during World War I.

Soldier of Orange, based on a memoir by a Resistance fighter, delineated the divergent paths taken by Verhoeven's countrymen, from heroism to betrayal to skin-saving, under-the-radar political neutrality. It paints political identity and action largely as matters of existential choice. Still, the protagonist is able to sympathize with both a Dutch Nazi friend and another friend pressured by the Nazis into becoming a turncoat. The former had, after all, a German mother; the latter, a Jewish girlfriend he was trying to save from the death camps.

There are similar complexities in Black Book, which Verhoeven has said is designed to illuminate the shades of gray among both the occupiers and the Resistance. Our heroine, for starters, seems to be something of a cold fish. When the devoutly Christian home where she had been hiding is bombed, she takes the loss in stride, confessing that she was tired of learning Bible verses. Much worse is to come. Reunited with her family, she swears never again to be parted from them — and, naturally, soon afterward her brother, her parents, and a boatful of Jewish refugees are gunned down by loot-seeking Nazis. To escape, she dives into the water, and watches, teary-eyed but resolute....

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