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Vol. LXI, No. 18
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

MY ENTIRE FAMILY WAS MURDERED BEFORE MY EYES: Rachel (Carice van Houten) narrowly escapes being murdered by the Nazis, when the boat she and her family were using to flee to freedom from the Nazi regime in Holland was ambushed by Nazi soldiers.

Black Book: Dutch Jewish Singer Is Center of Fictional Tale of Survival

Kam Williams

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) was a wealthy, celebrated singer in Europe. But because she was Jewish, during the Holocaust, she became totally dependent on the kindness of strangers, and had taken refuge in a safe house in Holland.

Then, in 1944, only weeks away from liberation by the approaching Allied forces, she was forced to flee when her hiding place was destroyed by a bomb. By jumping overboard, she was the only one of her family to survive an unsuccessful attempt to escape when the boat they had hired to ferry them out of the country was ambushed by German soldiers.

Rachel chose to remain in Holland and join the resistance movement in order to avenge the ruthless murder of her parents. However, she soon found herself making an unthinkable compromise just to survive. When her first mission for the Dutch underground went horribly wrong, her only means of avoiding discovery was to charm Ludwig Muntze (Sebastian Koch), a local Nazi leader.

Later, Rachel seduces the handsome Dutch Nazi officer in order to gain access to the enemy's headquarters on a regular basis. Complications ensue when he offers her employment as his assistant in order for them to be together as lovers. Rachel finds herself falling in love with him when she discovers that he is wrestling with his conscience over the horrible acts he is committing for the Nazis. Her affection for him is vindicated when he turns against the Nazis.

As the film develops, it is clear that the motives of the characters in the movie are not always what they appear to be at first glance. The pressing question which must be resolved is exactly where Rachel's loyalties lie, and perhaps a more important question is are the people who appear to be her friends and allies really true to her and her cause. Black Book is a labor of love by Paul Verhoeven who has worked on the project for the past twenty years.

From Basic Instinct, we know that the daring Dutch director is not averse to nudity in his films, and this picture is no exception. Alhough the characters are fictional, Verhoeven claims Rachel's persona was inspired by several real-life resistance fighters, including Esmee van Eeghen, Kitty ten Have and Dora Paulsen.

Black Book is absorbing from start to finish, and may be the first film to interpret a Holocaust tale of survival as an erotic, espionage thriller.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality, and graphic violence. In Dutch, German, Hebrew, and English with subtitles. Running time: 145 minutes. Studio: Sony Pictures Classics.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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