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New York Cool - Interview

 

Wendy R. Williams Talks to
Paul Verhoeven, Carice Van
Houten and Sebastian Koch
of Black Book
Tuesday February 27, 2007
Regency Hotel
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 Koch):


Paul Verhoeven’s
Black Book
Release Date April 4, 2007
In Dutch, Hebrew and German


Starring: Carice VanHouten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Derek de Lint and Halina Reijn.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Paul Verhoeven’s 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.”

Black Book 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.

Rachel then 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.

Rachel “volunteers” (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.

Director Paul 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 line).

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 also).

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 excellent.

This 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

The Interview with Paul Verhoeven

Question about why this film?

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 II.

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 ready first.

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 power.

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.

Question about the decision to cast Carice Van Houten as Ellis/Rachel.

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 on her.

Paul Verhoeven: All of that really happened. The abuse of prisoners happened all over Holland.

Question about how you feel about reparations.

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

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 Nazis.

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 great chemistry.

Question about the sex scenes.

Sebastian Koch: They are so ridiculous [there are so many people in the room}.
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 Paul.

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.



The Interview with Carice Van Houten

Question about working on the film.

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 characters.

The shit scene was very difficult to do but I understood that it was necessary.

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 Sebastian Koch.

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.

 


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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