What Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has done is borrow a bit from both types, telling the story – in Dutch, German and Hebrew – of a Jewish girl who joins the Dutch resistance after her family is murdered and then seduces, and eventually falls for, a Nazi officer amidst all sorts of intrigue and double cross.
While the film contains enough violence and nudity to live up to Verhoeven's pedigree as director of Total Recall , RoboCop and Starship Troopers ; it also plucks its storylines and characters from the official record, earning its brief preamble: “Inspired by Actual Events.”
While Black Book does take the stories of real events and persons from history, the supremely energetic Verhoeven is quick to point out that the film itself is no substitute for the actual history.
“I don't think it's the responsibility of the filmmaker to inform his audience of everything that happened in the world,” he offers. “I do that anyhow, because I am as close to history as possible, but I don't feel responsible for that. They should do that at the school … that is the responsibility of the educator.”
So what does Verhoeven think is the responsibility of the filmmaker? “I feel an historical responsibility if I do outrageous things, like telling you that a Jewish girl has an affair with a Nazi officer,” he explains. “I want to be sure that that existed, that it happened, because otherwise it would be a fantasy of mine. That's my responsibility; that I stay within the possibility of the human being, that this is something that could happen and that did happen.”
Sebastian Koch, who plays the male romantic lead as Nazi officer Edward Muntze sees the film as beneficial to both the Germans and the Dutch. “This movie is not good and evil,” he says. “It's important to face, the devil is a human being … I think it's very interesting and a good thing that Paul does a thriller [about it].”
Koch admits that placing this sensitive historical material in the form of a thriller runs the risk of distorting the audience's sense of recent history, but adds: “We have to go over it as well. We know it was a horrible period … but we have to talk about it. We have to understand it.”
Koch sees this film as one that can both entertain and interest a younger generation about their own history, a generation that Koch admits “needs this thrill,” and to whom “history is a little boring.”
Carice van Houten, who is gorgeous, touching and oftentimes naked as female lead Rachel Steinn, also agrees that the film deals with issues that are still very much alive in Germany and her native Netherlands. The memories of the war are still fresh, and Van Houten counts herself as “part of the generation that was brought up with [the memory of the war] very much, even with the saying that Germans were very bad.”
The subjects this film confronts are still vital some 60 years later, and although it won't be as immediate to an American audience as it has been for a Dutch one ( Black Book is already the highest grossing R-rated film in the Netherlands from the past 30 years), its thrills aren't a Dutch or German national property.
Despite the violence, Black Book is intriguing, showing that Nazis weren't absolutely bad, freedom fighters weren't completely good and the millions of shades of gray of morality that actually defined the conflict for those involved don't need to be parsed out into the blacks and whites that studio nutritionists have deemed the most easily digestible.
Black Book releases in select theaters April 4.