Black Book – Zwartboek (2006) Dutch Resistance

Black Book

I watched Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book aka Zwartboek when it came out in 2006 and absolutely loved it. That was four years before I started this blog. If I wanted to review it, I had to rewatch it. It does happen that a movie we liked a lot doesn’t hold up as well when we watch it again. Unfortunately this was the case here. It’s not a bad movie, it’s very entertaining, but I think a resistance movie must be a bit gritty. Black Book most certainly isn’t gritty, it’s so flashy and glossy, it could be an US production. Sure, you’re going to argue, that it’s logical, after all Verhoeven’s not only the director of Soldier of Orange but also of Starship Troopers and Total Recall. Although his first European movie in 20 years, Black Book has written “Hollywood” all over it (apart from the nudity, that wouldn’t go down so well in a US production).

The movie starts in Israel in 1956 and then rewinds to 1944. The main story is set in the Netherlands. The young Jewish woman Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) is in hiding when a bomb falls on the house of the people who hide her. A policeman who works for the Dutch resistance helps her, her family and a lot of other Jews to escape. The boat on which they should be brought to Belgium is attacked by Nazis, and everyone, except Rachel who manages to escape, is killed and all the money and jewellery is stolen. Rachel watches all this and sees the men responsible for this attack from her hideout.

There isn’t much she can do and so she eventually joins the resistance. During one of her missions she meets Nazi officer Muntze (Sebastian Koch). Under the false identity of Ellis de Vries, she seduces him, becomes his mistress and starts to work at the Nazi headquarters. It’s easy for her to seduce Muntze because she is very pretty and used to be a well-known singer, but that doesn’t mean he’s foolish enough not to see through her disguise.

Unfortunately her disguise is also discovered by others and she’s lured into a trap and henceforth suspected by the Resistance to be a double-agent. Things get even more dramatic when Muntze is arrested as she has developed feelings for him. When the Netherlands are finally liberated, Ellis/Rachel gets a chance to uncover who betrayed her.

Black Book is visually appealing, it’s well structured and well-paced and a really entertaining watch, but overall I didn’t find the anti-war message all that pertinent. It seems Verhoeven wanted to show that there were good and bad people on both sides and that the Dutch, like many other European people had ambiguous feelings.

Black Book is entertaining and worth watching but I think Soldier of Orange is far better and when it comes to other Resistance movies I can think of many better ones. These are just a few, which I have all reviewed here as well:

Army of Shadows,

Roma, Città Aperta-Rome Open City,

The Army of Crime,

Flame and Citron,

Max Manus,

Lucy Aubrac

I’m particularly fond of resistance movies, so if anyone has suggestions, I’d be very glad.

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Paul Verhoeven’s Soldier of Orange – Soldaat van Oranje (1977) Dutch Resistance

I think it was obooki who first suggested I watch Paul Verhoeven’s Soldier of Orange – Soldaat van Oranje in a comment on my Starship Troopers post. I’m certainly glad he did. It’s like a companion movie to one of Verhoeven’s latest movie Black Boek – Black Book. While I thought Black Book was quite good – although not as good as many other resistance movies – I’d say Soldier of Orange is far superior and deserves to be named among the best.

I have a predilection for the WWII sub genre of resistance movies and I’m aiming at watching them all sooner or later. Most of the really good movies I’ve seen were either French or Nordic in the broadest sense (including Germany and the Netherlands).

Soldier of Orange is based on the autobiographical novel of the Dutch resistance leader Erik Hazelhoff Roezelma. It tells the story of six upper-class university students whose lives are profoundly changed by WWII. While one of them becomes a member of the German-Dutch SS, the others are soon joining the resistance.

The two best friends Erik Lanshof (Rutger Hauer) and Guus Lejeune (Jeroen Krabbé) are the two main characters. While Guus is a resistance leader, Erik is at first reluctant to even join but the longer the Nazi occupation lasts, the more he feels the urge to do his bit.

With the help of their friend Robby and his radio they get into contact with the resistance in England. The first mission they organize goes very wrong. One of their friends is captured, tortured and executed. Erik and Guus manage to escape but from now on they must be extra careful. Erik soon notices that he is followed. It’s obvious that someone has betrayed them and they are quite certain to know who it is. It must be one of their British contacts.

The first part of the movie is set in the Netherlands. It shows how Erik changes. While at first this is only an adventure for him which he doesn’t take too seriously, when he discovers he’s followed, he know he has to make a decision. Although his love interest, Robby’s Jewish fiancée, is in the Netherlands, he decides to escape to Britain and operate from there.

The second part is set almost entirely in the UK. Erik and Guus meet the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina, who is in exile in the UK. She wants to get in contact with the Dutch resistance and establish a connection between the resistance in England and those at home.

Shortly after their arrival in the UK, the two men are sent back again to fetch some of the Dutch resistance leaders.

The movie contains all the typical elements one would expect in any resistance movie; adventure, danger, missions, betrayal inside the own ranks, torture, executions. What makes Soldier of Orange especially good is that it rings so true. The characters are quite complex and so is the Dutch society which is depicted. The movie doesn’t idealize anything, it shows how many traitors and collaborators there were among the Dutch. It is one of the Queen’s biggest concern what she will do with those after the war.

The picture was remarkably fresh and from that perspective the movie could be very recent. The colors are intense and crisp, it’s really enjoyable to watch. The music however is dated. I’d say it’s a typical 70s war movie score.

What surprised me was how cheerful and uplifting the tone was. Most resistance movies are slightly depressing. This one is not. Erik and Guus are both rascals, they enjoy women and adventures and while they would be glad if the war was over, the idea to cheat on the Germans amuses them so much that almost feel it’s all worth it. Their cheerfulness is quite infectious.

All this together would have made me like the movie but what makes me love it is Rutger Hauer. Ever since I watched Blade Runner for the first time some years ago, I thought he was an extraordinary and very charismatic actor.

From the point of view of the tone, I’d say Soldier of Orange is at the opposite end of  The Army of Shadows – L’armée des ombres and Flame & Citron (Flammen and Citronen) which are both depressing and full of angst. The Army of Crime and Max Manus occupy the middle ground.

Here are the resistance movies I’ve reviewed so far:

Lucie Aubrac – French

Rome, Open City – Roma, città aperta – Italian

Female Agents- les femmes de l’ombre – French

Tomorrow We Live – British

The Army of Crime – L’armée du crime – French

Winter in Wartime –  Oorlogswinter – Dutch

The Army of Shadows – L’armée du crime – French

Max Manus – Frihedskæmperen Max Manus – co-production Norway/Denmark

Flame & Citron – Flammen and Citronen – co-production Norway/Denmark/Sweden…

I have seen many more pre-blogging and will need to rewatch some of those. Do you have any favourites?

Winter in Wartime aka Oorlogswinter (2008) Resistance in Occupied Holland

Winter in Wartime is a Dutch-Belgian co-production filmed in three languages, German, Dutch and English. The same producers who did the outstanding movie Zwart Boek aka Black Book did also this one. There are some resemblances picture wise but apart from that the two movies are very different. Winter in Wartime is to be classified among the long list of Children in War Movies (please see my post Children in War Movies).

Michiel, a young boy of 14 years, gets drawn into the Dutch Resistance after one of his older friends, an active member of the Resistance, gets shot. Michiel takes it upon himself to help a young RAF pilot who has been shot down in the woods near his village. As young as he is Michiel has a strong sense of right and wrong and despises his father whom he accuses of collaborating with the Germans. He idealizes his uncle Ben who thinks his brother is a coward.

Occupied Holland is swarming with Germans. It is extremely dangerous for Michiel to help the young injured British soldier and he has to let his sister who is a nurse in on his secret. After a German soldier is found shot in the woods the Germans arrest Michiel’s father. Although his uncle says he can help him, the father is shot.

Michiel’s only mission from then on is to save his the young pilot. The ywill attempt to flee several times. Michiel will learn a few important lessons and come out wizened of this experience.

The movie is very beautiful as we see long takes on the snow-covered Dutch countryside. Snow flakes fall softly in many a scene, the whiteness of the woods builds a stark contrast to the dark uniforms of the Germans. Michiel is a wonderful character. Such a young boy with such an incredible idealism and courage. The young actor, Martijn Lakemeier, did a great job. So did  Jamie Campbell Bower as the pilot Jack. I also liked the relationship between the boy and his father or rather how the opinion the boy is change through the events. Apart from that I’m not too sure about this movie. You could watch it with very young people or children to teach them something about the war and values but I think it is too much of a purely invented story and does lack realism. If you watch it you will understand what I mean. There are a few things that just seem extremely farfetched.

Don’t get me wrong, it is watchable. Just not great. If you have never seen a movie on Dutch Resistance, go for Black Book. If you’d like to watch something on Nordic Resistance, try Max Manus or Flame & Citron. All three are great. This one is probably a 3.5-4.