‘Black Book’ celebrates spirit of hope and optimism


Many movies have been made about World War II and the thousands of stories that transpired during those years. Just when we think we don’t want to go through the heartache of watching another such film, up pops a movie like “Black Book.”

This story about a beautiful singer left homeless when her safe-house is destroyed not only enthralls us, it also reminds us that we continue to watch these movies because they celebrate an undeniable spirit of hope and optimism.

Rachel Stein (Carice Van Houten), a young Jewish singer, has had to give up her home, her family and even her career to hide out from the Germans in 1944. When her family members decide they must separate for safety reasons, Rachel finds residence with the Tsjempkema family in rural Holland. Just when things seem routine, a German fighter plane bombs the safe house. Because Rachel was outside at the time, she’s the only survivor.

She turns to the only other friend around, Rob (Michel Huisman), who takes Rachel to the home of Notary Smaal (Dolf de Vries), a lawyer who helps Jews escape from Holland. He arranges the details and makes a note of it in a small black book. Once they’re reunited, the family is excited to be together and on their way to another safe place.

Tragically, the boat they board is a ruse and is blown up. After determining that her family members are dead, Rachael jumps in the river and survives.

Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, who co-wrote the script based on historical events with Gerard Soeteman, has created an enthralling film. While fans snubbed his sexy romp, “Showgirls,” Verhoeven has shown influential filmmaking vision in such films as “Basic Instinct,” “Total Recall” and “Robocop.” In “Black Book,” aided by Karl Walter Lindenlaub’s exceptional cinematography, Verhoeven gives us yet another glimpse of a horrific time in history through mostly one captivating character.

From the moment Rachael loses her family, her struggle to survive holds viewers’ attention. Carice Van Houten, a beautiful and talented Dutch actress, is exceptional in her role as a woman who suffers devastation that turns into anger and then risks her own life for revenge.

There are several scenes in the film, and one in particular, that I can’t imagine most actresses doing, yet Houten’s fervor and collaboration with Verhoeven and her co-stars make this film resonate.

“Black Book” unfolds in German and Dutch languages with English subtitles, but don’t let that keep you away. The way Verhoeven creates a dance between foe and friend offers moments of danger, romance, insight and edge-of-your-seat drama.