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.

Frozen Silence – Silencio en la nieve (2012) Spanish WWII Thriller

Frozen Silence

Set on the Russian front in 1943, this thriller shows a lesser known aspect of WWII, namely Spain’s participation on the Russian front. I may not be the history buff I should be to write a blog like this, so, in all honesty, I have to admit, I had no clue the Spanish were fighting on the Russian front alongside the Germans. The Blue Division or División Azul  (also called División Española de voluntarios, meaning Division of volunteers) was a division of Spanish volunteers, the 250th Division of the German army. Franco had allowed these volunteers to join up. Most of these men were right-wing, falangists, only a very few were communists.

I knew this was a thriller, therefore I didn’t expect to see all that much about the war as such. The 250th Division must have seen some heavy fighting, but we only get a taste of it. Nevertheless I liked this film a great deal. It works as a gripping thriller, but it also conveys a feeling for what it must have been like for the Spanish to fight with the Germans. There was a lot of hostility, and the Germans made them feel their superiority constantly.

The story starts with a chilling image. A frozen lake full of dead horses. When the soldiers of the Spanish division approach they find a dead man among these horses. His throat has been cut and an inscription has been carved into his skin “God Sees Everything”. The Spanish commander appoints a former police officer, Andrade, to investigate the case.

Arturo Andrade goes about this investigation with great care. At first it looks las if the victim was a pro-Soviet agent, later when there are further murders a possible lead points towards freemasons.

There is a longer sequence towards the end of the movie which is reminiscent of the Deer Hunter Russian Roulette scene, only this one here is even more chilling. I wonder if this is truth or fiction. Did they really play Russian Roulette to the extent it’s shown here?

I liked the mood and the atmosphere of this beautifully filmed movie. It has a lot of great scenes. I enjoyed the characters and the story as well and I’m glad it made me aware of the Spanish participation in WWII. I think this is fascinating material and well-worth a “proper” war movie. I’m afraid though that not many Spanish film makers would want to portray the División Azul. After all they were falangists and, as it seems, quite heroic. Depicting their heroism could be interpreted as pro-Franco, I guess.

The movie is based on a novely by Ignacio del Valle.

I found the Spanish trailer but none with subtitles and another trailer below in which nobody talks.