Monday, 29 June 2009


“In war, truth is the first casualty.” – Aeschylus

While it was a very busy Weekend, during which I worked mainly on my book, we found time to watch a really good Dutch film last night. It was Paul Verhoeven’s “Zwartboek” (The Black Book) of 2006. It starred Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn and Waldemar Kobus. It was a slickly made, excellent production with a satisfying story and was extremely well-acted and well-directed. Its long duration (about 145 minutes) was hardly noticeable as the story kept you involved and the images were engaging. Hard to believe that the film was made with a moderate budget, about $20 million. I guess Paul Verhoeven is a well-seasoned director (think “Total Recall”, “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls”) and he knows how to spin a good yarn.

The film is based on a real story, which makes it all the more appealing, but also chillingly disturbing. It is set in Nazi-occupied Holland towards the end of World War II. The film centres around a young Jewish woman named Rachel, who is forced to assume the identity of a Dutchwoman called Ellis so as to save her life. She dyes her hair blond and pretends to be a singer in order to avenge the death of her family. She joins the Dutch resistance and through an odyssey of determination and sheer luck she manages to survive. There a few twists and turns to the plot (some quite predictable), but the overall package is impressive. It is an old-fashioned film, one that you can sink your teeth into.

There are several poignant moments and an unexpected love story, especially given the way the film starts. Carice van Houten, the Dutch star who plays Rachel/Ellis is luminous and charismatic in her role and Verhoeven maximises her acting talents and she gives a winning performance. Her character has to adapt to many different emotional states and contrasting situations and van Houten is able to carry them through without blinking an eyelid in an effortless and utterly believable way.

The film makes a statement about war and drives home the point that all is not black and white. There are no “good guys and bad guys”, the line is fuzzy. Heroes are not born they are made, and circumstances can often force them to become the hunted instead of the hunters. The film succeeds because it upsets many conventions and the viewer’s interest is maintained because of the subtle interplay of concealed emotions between the characters. What is not immediately obvious is what makes the film interesting. I would happily see it again in the future, as I am sure that I would enjoy it again.

There is a great deal of violence and nudity in the film, but these are features that are not intrusive, they are an integral part of the story. It is a powerful and life affirming film, although there are several instances when Verhoeven seems to take a cynical view of humanity and doubts its ability to survive long term…


  1. sounds good.
    what will your book be about?

  2. Hi Meredith. The book is a Pathology Textbook for undergraduate University medical and paramedical courses.