The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 16, 2012

‘Black Book has sex, violence, plus history


Star Beacon

— There are oh, so many movies about World War II and Nazi Germany.

“Black Book,” a 2006 film from the Netherlands, was expected to be nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars but was unfortunately edged out.

A film of almost epic proportions — and not just because of its 145-minute  length — it offers a huge historical backdrop, lots of violence, a bit of romance, plenty of sex, deceit, betrayal, baby, it has everything.

The film begins in Israel in 1956, where Rachel, a Jew, meets an old friend at the kibbutz where she is working as a teacher. It brings back memories of life in the Netherlands during the war.

Rachel, played by Carice van Houten, is living in a safe house and must parrot the prayers of the Christian inhabitants.

A former singer, she uses her windup phonograph to play music while sitting beside an adjoining pond. A looker herself, she engages in conversation with a man on a sailboat when a plane flies by and starts dropping bombs.

It drops a bomb on the house she was living in and thus begins a new life working with the underground to battle Nazis.

That all happens after an old friend in the resistance gives her money and arranges for safe passage out of the Netherlands. Imagine her delight when she sees her brother and parents getting on the boat as well. She is overcome with joy. What an uplifting film, right?

Mmmm, not so much. Because soon a Nazi boat pulls up and they pull out machine-guns and start blasting everyone aboard.

Rachel watches her whole family be mowed down as she jumps overboard. The Nazis shoot into the water but fail to hit her. They can’t, otherwise the film is only 20 minutes long. Remember, I said it was 145 minutes?

What’s worse, she watches from the water as the Nazis pull the corpses off the boat, strip clothing and take all of the valuables.

She is rescued by a resistance group, headed by Gerben Kuipers (Derek de Lint). They are getting a shipment of weapons in a vegetable truck. Except the truck crashes while trying to avoid a bunch of starving children. The resistance members in the truck are caught, including Kuipers’ son.

Rachel has met a Nazi leader who actually tries to save lives and is more interested in stamps than world conquest. He is Ludwig Muntze, played by Sebastian Koch.

Kuipers wants her to become friendlier with Muntze as part of an effort to save his son and the others.

She agrees and takes a bunch of stamps to Muntze.

He likes her, they sleep together and she gets to decorate for Hitler’s birthday party. What could be better?

And there tickling the ivories and singing is a jovial Nazi who just happened to the sadistic bastard who ordered the murder of her family on the boat.

You never know who the characters really are. There are many surprises in this engrossing narrative.

Who are the good guys and who are bad is never really clear.

Besides the bloody shooting scenes, you will find ample visions of dead bodies, decaying bodies being dug up and plenty of nudity.

It is really a film worth checking out. You care about the people in the backdrop of the gore, sex and history.

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