Wendy R. Williams
Paul Verhoeven, Carice Van
Houten and Sebastian Koch
of Black Book
Tuesday February 27, 2007
Black Book Release Date
April 4, 2007
Paul Verhoeven has a winner with his new Dutch
film, Black Book. Here is my review
of the film (scroll down for the interview
with Verhoeven, Carice Van Housten and Sebastian
Release Date April 4, 2007
In Dutch, Hebrew and German
Starring: Carice VanHouten, Sebastian Koch,
Thom Hoffman, Derek de Lint and Halina Reijn.
Wendy R. Williams
new film Zwartboek (Black Book)
tells a story about the ambiguity surrounding
the so-called heroic resistance of the Dutch
people during World War II.
Here is a synopsis
from the Black Book press release:
“A relentlessly gripping thriller about
the Dutch underground set in the fall of 1944,
the film marks master director Paul Verhoeven’s
(Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers)
return to his native Netherlands, revisiting
the action filled World War II subject matter
of his 1977 Dutch drama Soldier of Orange.
Black Book is based on true events
that span nearly a year around Rachel Stein
(Carice van Houten) a young, pretty Jewish
woman who falls for a high-ranking Gestapo
officer (Sebastian Koch) while seeking revenge
for her family's murders.”
stars Carice Van Houten as Rachel, a pretty
young Jewish torch singer who leaves her hiding
place with a Christian Dutch family for a
chance to reunite with her (also hidden) family
and escape by boat to the unoccupied south.
They are betrayed by her so called rescuers
and everyone in Rachel’s family is murdered
in front of her eyes. Rachel escapes by diving
into the water.
joins a resistance cell being run by a charismatic
Dutch leader, Gerben Kuipers (played by Derek
de Lint). There she helps with missions run
by a dashing young doctor, Hans Akkermans
(played by Thom Hoffman). The stakes for the
cell become extremely high when Kuipers young
son is captured and is marked for execution
by the Nazis.
(she is really begged) to infiltrate the Nazi
headquarters and place a bug in the office
of the Commander. She does this by turning
herself into the blonde (in both places) Ellis
and seducing a charming SS Officer, Ludwig
Müntze (played by Sebastian Koch). Müntze
gives her a job at headquarters where she
befriends another young Dutch woman, Ronnie
(played by Halina Reijn).
And here the
plot becomes more complicated. The Nazis are
predictably horrid but the head of the SS
in Amsterdam, Müntze, is a truly decent
man who collects stamps and is trying to find
a way to prevent further loss of life in what
is quickly becoming a losing war. And Ellis
and Müntze fall in love; he even hires
her after he determines that she is Jewish
and not truly a blonde.
Verhoeven was righteously pilloried in the
United States for his direction of the Joe
Eszterhas scripted Showgirls. This
writer director team had created the memorable
Basic Instinct, but went down in
flames with the paint-by- numbers script of
Showgirls. (It has had an amazing
afterlife being projected on the walls at
clubs and parties - I have some of the dialogue
memorized). They were also sunk by Elizabeth
Barkley’s puppet-on-a-string acting
style (she was undoubtedly hired after she
took off her clothes but before she read a
And in Black
Book, Verhoeven returns with another
hot sexual protagonist. But this time, he
has a decent script (credited to Verhoeven
and Gerard Soeteman)
and Carice Van Houten as his lead. Van Houten
is an amazing actress (remember her name);
she can say a paragraph of dialogue with just
one look in her eyes. And her love interest
is the equally hot and talented Sebastian
Koch. Van Houten and Koch burn up the screen
with their love scenes. And it is obvious
that these characters truly love each other
(according to the press and the actors at
the press junket, this is true in real life
And Van Houten
and Sebastian are not the only talented actors
in the cast. The actors portraying the members
of the resistance (especially De Lint and
Hoffman) and even the swinish Nazis are all
film truly sizzles; there is lots of full-frontal
nudity, although some of it is from characters
you might prefer not to see naked. But hot
love scenes aside, the most memorable parts
of the movie are after the Nazis lose the
war. Then we see some of the same mess that
we are presently dealing with in Iraq. The
incompetent conquerors ham-handedly deal with
their new fiefdom, allowing atrocities to
occur at the hands of the same monsters they
were supposedly oppressing. The heroes are
not heroes and the villains are as human as
their foes. And they have their own Abu Ghraib.
As in all of life, nothing is ever really
what it is supposed to be and no one is what
they seem. Everything and everyone is painted
in varying shades of grey.
Director of Photography
Karl Walter Lindenlaub and Director Paul Verhoeven
with Paul Verhoeven
Question about why this
Paul Verhoeven: Well, I
wanted to get out of science fiction [reference
to Starship Troopers]. And I did
not like the script to Basic Instinct
It [Black Book]
is a script we had been working on for a long
time. When we made 1978’s Soldier
of Orange there was a lot of excess information.
We started working on this film [Black
Book] in 2001 but [it did not come together
because] we had the wrong protagonist [he
changed the script to have a female lead].
Question about why make
this film in the Netherlands?
Paul Verhoeven: People in
the United States did not want to trust me
with realism after Showgirls. I was
actually working on developing two films at
the same time – Black Book
and a Russian film. Black Book was
And there are the parallels
to the situation in Iraq with the deception
and ambiguity. This (parallel) was very interesting
to my European partners.
Question about post war
reconciliation in the Netherlands.
Paul Verhoeven: There was
no post war reconciliation. There was a lot
of anger against the Dutch collaborators –
more so than toward the Germans. Dutch jails
were horrifying, worse than Abu Ghraib. It
is horrifying that the Dutch did that to the
Dutch many of whom were women who just basically
fell in love [with German soldiers]
During the first few years of the war, there
was not a lot of acrimony [towards the Germans]?
After the Germans were defeated in Stalingrad,
the Dutch switched sizes.
Question about Vorhoeven’s
continual theme of feminine sexuality and
Paul Verhoeven: The heroine
in Basic Instinct already had power;
she was using it because she could. In Showgirls,
the use of sexuality was for opportunistic
reasons. [In Black Book] Ellis uses
her sexuality for altruistic reasons.
about the decision to cast Carice Van Houten
Paul Verhoeven: [Having
been away so long] I was unfamiliar with Dutch
actors. They [casting agents] were showing
me all the available actors. Carice came at
2PM on the first day. By 2:30PM it was clear
it was her. She is amazing; she does all her
own singing. I would end up saying to her,
“Forget my instructions, and just do
what you want.” She is the most talented
woman I have ever worked with.
Question about why actresses
go to the length they go to the lengths they
do for you.
Paul Verhoeven: I am very
honest with them. I tell them up front what
will be involved. There is no improv on set.
Question about what do you
say to people who focus on her [Ellis’s]
dying her pubic hair as a plot point or the
talk about the scene where shit is poured
Paul Verhoeven: All of that
really happened. The abuse of prisoners happened
all over Holland.
Question about how you feel
Paul Verhoeven: It is a
good thing. The Queen of Holland went to Israel
several years ago to apologize.
Question about why you ended
the film with the Israeli settlers being attacked.
Paul Verhoeven: I wanted
to point out that although she [Ellis/Rachel]
had a new life, the situation has not been
solved. Does it ever stop?
The Interview with
Sebastian Koch just starred
in a German film that won the Oscar for Best
Foreign film, The Lives of Others; amazingly
it won over Pans Labryinthe.
Question about the fact
that his character is a hero.
Sebastian Koch: The whole
film is not about good and evil. It is all
about grey. [Regarding the SS officers] It
is so easy to make them into monsters, but
the devil is human. If we wanted to understand
the entire thing, we have to see them as human.
The reason we had terrorists
gangs in Germany like the Bader Meinhof gang,
is because these children grew up with parents
who never answered their questions about the
In Germany we don’t
have a national holiday where people waive
flags and singing songs that that show that
they are proud to be German.
Question about what was
it like to work with Carice.
Sebastian Koch: Great –
when we met we had the same humor; we had
Question about the sex scenes.
Sebastian Koch: They are
so ridiculous [there are so many people in
We fell in love slowly but surely.
Question about how he prepares
for a role.
Sebastian Koch: I do a lot
of reading and I have to have time for intuition
to set in and then I know.
Question about working with
Sebastian Koch: I was a
fan of Paul, but of the Hollywood part. Paul
is always seeking a new path. [I am the same]
I avoid doing things that I have done before.
An artist should not work without risk. Every
day Paul was 150%.
The scene where he confronts
her could have been so ridiculous with the
gun holding up the sheet. That scene could
only work with emotions.
with Carice Van Houten
Question about working on
Carice Van Houten: There
were lots of highs and lows. I had to do the
scene where I find out that Muntz is dead
in the first week before I even met the other
The shit scene was very
difficult to do but I understood that it was
Question about why actresses
go to such lengths for Paul Verhoeven.
Carice Van Houten: He is
a very charming man. He feels very comfortable
with women; he lifts you up.
I would like to give you
a strange story like I did not know that they
were filming the pubic hair, but it would
not be true.
Question about her process.
Carice Van Houten: I was
brought up with silent films. I am inspired
by acting without talking.
Question about whether Hollywood
has come knocking on your door.
Carice Van Houten: I have
an agent. She found me. I have done everything
I can do in the Netherlands.
Question about working with
Carice Van Houten: He is
the most handsome actor I have every worked
with. He is very sensitive and very focused.
I eat a sandwich and do a take.
Many thanks to Paul Verhoeven,
Carice Van Houten and Sebastian Koch for talking
to New York Cool.