Black Book: A stunning war movie

BlackbookFilms about the Second World War war don’t do much for me. I can count on one hand such films that have made an impact, the most recent being Flags of Our Fathers which I saw on a plane journey in February.

Then I saw Black Book on DVD this weekend.

Released in late 2006, this film is the latest from Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, best known for directing Hollywood blockbusters RoboCop, Basic Instinct, Total Recall and Starship Troopers (all great movies, btw).

This is probably the WW2 film with the most compelling story, acting and outstanding actors that I’ve yet seen.

What it does is focus on a small group of people in Nazi-occupied Netherlands in horrific and entirely credible circumstances during the closing stages of the most awful but defining event of the 20th century. While not a true story, it is based on events that actually happened in The Netherlands (and, I suspect, lots of other places) under Nazi occupation.

Black Book is a story about people doing what they have to do, be that good or evil, in order to survive. And ‘survive’ means different things to different people under such circumstances.

I think the reason the film hasn’t made broad cinema release is because it’s in the original languages spoken, ie, most of it is in Dutch and German. No dubbing. Indeed, the film’s title outside the English-speaking world is ‘Zwartboek’ (not much of a leap in imagination to understand that: it means ‘Black Book’ in Dutch).

My DVD has English sub titles so easy enough to follow along. Yet I think this is one of those films where, if you don’t understand the languages being spoken by the actors, you’ll still want to watch it anyway.

The three primary actors – Dutch actors Carice van Houten and Thom Hoffman, and German actor Sebastian Koch – each put in outstanding performances. The whole cast was terrific, in fact, but these three (those you see in the poster image here) really stood out.

Carice van Houten in particular – in her role as a Jewish chanteuse, almost an unwitting Mata Hari, she was the central character of the whole story. What a beautiful woman and a great performance; she surely must have caught the attention of Hollywood by now.

At the time of its release, Black Book was the most expensive Dutch film ever made, and commercially the most successful one ever –  it’s the Dutch film that had the highest box office gross in 2006.

No spoilers in this post. Just see the film if you have a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Phil Gomes

    Recommendation noted, but… “Starship Troopers?” YUCK! It was 90210 with bugs and weaponry! Heinlein was spinning in his grave fast enough to power the Petronas towers!

  2. neville

    It may not be art, Phil, but I know what I like :)

    Starship Troopers 2 – now that was a really awful film, no two ways about it.

  3. Anneke

    Starship Troopers is (if you watch it carefully) a political film against war, but if you want to go for the action that’s fine with me.

    Anyway, I loved Zwartboek. It is one of those films that leaves you gasping. In the cinema I sat next to a couple who were obviously old enough to have experienced the occupation themselves, and that thought was also quite impressive.

  4. neville

    Hadn’t really thought of Starship Troopers that way, Anneke, but now that I do, I’d agree with you.

    Great view of Black Book: “leaves you gasping.” Exactly.

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