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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Zwartboek (Black Book) (2006)

Netflix has finally arrived in the UK! I was elated when I found out but after signing up for the 31 day free trial, I came back down to earth with a bump. Whilst they do have some really brilliant films, some of my favourites in fact, there are huge gaps in both the film and tv selections. I've heard so many great things about  the American service, especially about the classic films available, so it was a bit disheartening to find out that the UK Netflix only has 27 classic films (some of the better titles include Brief Encounter, The Red Shoes, In the Heat of the Night, and The 39 Steps.). Still, I decided to wade through the other titles and see what I could find in the post-1970 category. The following film is probably my favourite of the (far too many) I watched during the trial.
Zwartboek (Black Book), 2006
The director: Paul Verhoeven
The stars: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn
My rating★★★★★

In 1944, Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), a Jewish singer, is helped by a member of the Dutch Resistance to escape by boat to the liberated part of the Netherlands along with her family and a handful of other Dutch Jews. However, the escape is revealed as a trap and a boat full of SS officers massacre the escapees. All, that is, except Rachel who manages to swim to the relative safety of the reeds at the riverbank.

After witnessing the death of her entire family, Rachel takes on a new identity by bleaching her hair blonde, changing her name to Ellis de Vries, and becoming involved with the Resistance. When several of its members are captured, Ellis, in a very Mata Hari-esque turn, manages to win her way into the affections of the local SD commander, Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). In the process, she comes to face-to-face with the brutal and sadistic SS officer who oversaw the murder of her family and the other Jewish refugees, is uncovered by Müntze as being a Jew, and realises that nothing is ever quite what it seems -that betrayal and protection can come from the most unlikely of places.

I knew I was going to love this film from the moment, about 4 minutes in, when I spotted this...

Yes, that is Deborah. Coolest thing ever or coolest thing ever? If I'd have blinked I'd have missed it because, needless to say, the camera was not trained on this part of the wall for more than a few seconds. Marlene was also on the wall, along with a plump-cheeked lady who looked suspiciously like Nancy Carroll. Anyway, there were several classic film references which made me happy, especially the scene in which Ellis sings Ich bin die Fesche Lola (if you live a life which has so far been deprived of Marlene's rendition of said song, I send you my condolences). The actress who plays Ellis (Carice van Houten) has a beautiful voice and her version of the song is almost as wonderful as Marlene's.

That being said, the scene just before Ellis sings is completely at odds with the words of the carefree and naughty Lola. In my opinion, it's one of the most brilliant scenes in the entire film. It's the moment she realises that the man who is sitting at the piano, playing and laughing, is the SS officer who oversaw the brutal massacre of her family and the other Jewish refugees. Utterly heartbreaking and gut-wrenching.

(I couldn't find a clip with English subtitles, but the words in this scene aren't very important.)

In the end, all I can really say is that Zwartboek is an incredible film that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys watching films about WWII that aren't full of military stratagems and bloody violence. (Yes, it's time for my usual Band of Brothers plug: WATCH IT (and watch Zwartboek too)). 

P.S. I just made it sound as though Zwartboek doesn't have much violence in it but it really does. So, if you get a bit queasy over blood and guts, you might want to keep the remote handy. :)


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