(aka "Black Book" )

 

directed by Paul Verhoeven
Netherlands / Belgium / UK / Germany 2006

 

Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven made his name in Hollywood with films such as ROBOCOP, BASIC INSTINCT, and STARSHIP TROOPERS. But Verhoeven got his start in the industry by making films (the acclaimed SPETTERS and SOLDIER OF ORANGE among them) in his native country, and it's to Holland that he returns for BLACK BOOK--his first Dutch film in 20 years. The story is set during the final days of World War II in Holland, and follows a Jewish singer named Rachel Stein (Carice Van Houten). Rachel attempts to avoid the Nazis and remains in quiet hiding until her family is brutally slain, causing her to join up with a resistance movement. On a subsequent undercover mission, Rachel crosses paths with a smitten German general named Ludwig Muntze (Sebastian Koch), with whom Rachel begins a relationship in order to feed vital information back to her colleagues in the resistance. But as the action and bloodshed escalate, Rachel realises that she has genuine feelings for Muntze, and soon she is in enormous danger. Verhoeven's film is wildly ambitious and takes many intriguing twists and turns during its 146 minutes. BLACK BOOK commanded the largest budget of any film to be produced in Holland, and it shows. Explosions litter the screen, plenty of car chases ensue, and wince-inducing injuries and deaths propel the action. The director isn't afraid to criticise his fellow countrymen and inserts a fascinating subtext about the actions of the resistance fighters, asking some uncomfortable questions about the similarities between their behavior and that of the Nazis. Van Houten lights up the screen throughout and is surely destined for bigger things, and while the tumultuous experiences her character undergoes might push the boundaries of reality at times, Verhoeven has pointed out in interviews that Rachel is a composite character who encompasses the merged experiences of many real people from the era.

***

If anything should be said about Paul Verhoeven, then it should be that he has no sense of restraint or moderation. He often throws away caution in regards to plot logic and goes over the top with something outrageous out of place, followed by turkey punch-one-liners. On one side, that was what made “RoboCop” so great, and on the other, what made “Showgirls” – and “Basic Instinct” - so stupendous bad. Strange though, as his earlier Dutch films like “Soldaat van Oranje” and “De Vierde Man” were very good films.

It’s been six years since the horrible “Hollow Man”, and now Verhoeven has returned to Holland and made the most expensive Dutch film ever, “Zwartboek”, based on real events, which were uncovered while he researched “Soldaat van Oranje”, reuniting him with Gerard Soeteman, the writer for the majority of his previous Dutch films.

The story deals with the Jew Rachel Stein (Carice von Houten), who becomes the blond Aryan Ellis de Vries to go undercover for the resistance, after she escaped a massacre. Not only does she work for the Nazis, she falls in love with SS officer Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch).

While it on the paper looks like a winner, “Zwartboek” comes close to what can be described as Anna Frank meets Showgirls. It is, for most of the plot, a pulp romance story about a very naïve yet strong-minded Jewish woman who falls in love with an idealistic and good-hearted Nazi officer, full of sudden, often cliff-hanger often action, plot twists and one-liners as good as those in “Showgirls”. It has it all, drama, sex, action, sex, betrayal, sex and of course nudity by von Houten.

To demonstrate: Ellis (aka the blond Aryan Rachel) has to go work for Nazis. She is asked how far she is willing to go, and her mind doesn’t fall upon killing, but sex. “You mean sleep with him?... I will go as far as he wants to go!” Next we see her dye her pubic hear blond (in close up), which leads to her having sex with one of her resistance partners.

Several scenes are superfluous and appear more like present in order to show nudity, and action sequences almost come from the blue sky, breaking the pace, as if the script said “Insert action here”. Admitted, sex and action are central elements to both the story of Rachel / Ellis and the resistance, but there should be a point in showing it, and it should then carry and strengthen the plot. In “Zwartboek” it does not, but often feels like being out of sync with the plot, displayed for its own sake.

Mind you, “Zwartboek” looks beautiful and has some superb scenes, but overall the film comes off as wanting to go in too many directions, wanting too much, and thereby forgets itself. It feels like too desperate an attempt by Verhoeven to regain a position as a good director, while he at the same time continues to display no self-control in doing what he did in Hollywood. And while there is a beautiful sense of fatalism in having Ellis sing “Das ist meine Melodie, nachder Ich singen muss.” (that is my melody, according to which I have to sing), Verhoeven needs to learn a new “melody” according to which he has to direct.

 

Henrik Sylow

Posters

 

Theatrical Release: September 14th, 2006 (Netherlands)

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Comparison: 

Tartan - Region 0 - PAL vs. Palisades Tartan Video - Region FREE - Blu-ray

Big thanks to Henrik Sylow for the DVD Review!

DVD Box Cover

 

On HMV exclusive for 3 months:

Distribution

Tartan

Region 0 - PAL

Tartan

Region FREE - Blu-ray

Runtime 2:19:36 (4% PAL speedup) 2:25:29.679
Video

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 6.11 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 39,304,124,984 bytes

Feature: 32,430,968,832 bytes

Video Bitrate: 24.99 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Bitrate

Blu-ray

Audio 2.0 Dolby Digital Dutch/German, 5.1 Dolby Digital Duthc/German, DTS Dutch/German DTS-HD Master Audio Dutch 2250 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2250 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio Dutch 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Dutch 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps
Subtitles English, None English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Tartan

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
• Paul Verhoeven Interview (12:36)
• Carice van Houten interview (21:52)
• Original Theatrical Trailer (2:19)

DVD Release Date: April 30, 2007
Keep Case

Chapters 16

Release Information:
Studio: Tartan

 

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 39,304,124,984 bytes

Feature: 32,430,968,832 bytes

Video Bitrate: 24.99 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Edition Details:
• Paul Verhoeven Interview (12:36)
• Carice van Houten interview (21:52)
• Original Theatrical Trailer (2:19)

Blu-ray Release Date:
November 2nd, 2009
Keep Case

Chapters 16

 

Comments:

The new Palisades Tartan Blu-ray is on HMV exclusive for 3 months. I haven't had good experiences ordering internationally from HMV and suggest waiting if you are in the same boat - requiring overseas delivery.

The improvement one sees over the corresponding Tartan DVD will be directly proportional to the size of the screen you are reviewing it on. The Blu-ray is dual-layered, with a nice sheen of grain and even has some depth in a few spots. Detail is tighter but colors look about the same for the most part. Audio takes a more dramatic leap and while not always the best separation in the DTS-master 5.1 - does have some subtleties that support the film well.

It appears to be the same extras - Paul Verhoeven and Carice van Houten Interviews (where she mentions her tits) for about 1/2 hour and the original Theatrical Trailer - but each viewable in a small box inside the Extras Menu screen.

Great film - I suggest seeing this if you have not. It's a very impacting war film.

Gary W. Tooze

ON THE TARTAN DVD: A beautiful transfer. Rich details, deep blacks, strong colors. No visible artifacts.

Sound comes in the usual for Tartan: 2.0 / 5.1 / DTS, where the DTS is superb. The soundstage is rich, good separation and use of rears. The only thing I could wish for is a deeper and fuller bass.

The additional material is adequate: Two interviews, one with Verhoeven, who talks in detail about the story behind the story of the film, the other with von Houten, who talks about her character and working with Verhoeven.

 - Henrik Sylow

 



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Tartan - Region 0 - PAL TOP vs. Palisades Tartan Video - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Tartan - Region 0 - PAL TOP vs. Palisades Tartan Video - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Tartan - Region 0 - PAL TOP vs. Palisades Tartan Video - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Tartan - Region 0 - PAL TOP vs. Palisades Tartan Video - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Tartan - Region 0 - PAL TOP vs. Palisades Tartan Video - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

More Blu-ray Captures

 


DVD Box Cover

 

On HMV exclusive for 3 months:

Distribution

Tartan

Region 0 - PAL

Tartan

Region FREE - Blu-ray




 

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