A review of “Black Book” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for some strong violence, graphic nudity, sexuality and language.

Run Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. In Dutch, Hebrew German and English with English subtitles

 

 

Melodrama runs thick as molasses in this epic tale of one woman’s struggle to survive the atrocities of WWII.

How far to go in order to secure one’s life and the god-given right to freedom? That’s the question facing Rachel Stein (Carice von Houten), a beautiful Dutch Jewess who worked as a nightclub chanteuse before the onset of war.

Rachel begins her perilous journey as a virtual slave in a strict Christian safe-house where she hides out with fellow refugees. Forced into the open she and her reunited family are offered passage on a boat to independence.

The promises end in tragedy and, not for the last time, Rachel barely escapes with her life. Next step is the communist underground and a group of intrepid souls who fight the good fight for liberty and the secure future of Europe.

Insisting she be put to work on the front lines the freshly monikered Ellis de Vries is offered placement of the most delicate kind; as spy and lover to one of the Gestapo’s top agents (“Lives of Others” Sebastian Koch as Ludwig Müntze) stationed in Berlin.

As the masquerade gains steam – literally and figuratively – a genuine affection grows between Rachel/Ellis and the surprisingly conflicted Müntze, a romantic tumor that stubbornly obstructs the essential detachment to get the job done right.

Director Paul Verhoeven travels back to his Dutch roots in “Book”, bypassing his penchant for American sleaze (“Showgirls”) in favor or a more historical oeuvre. But this is history Hollywood style; a dense soap-opera ramped up with juicy elements not often associated with Hitler’s regime.

Von Houten is marvelous, playing out her nine lives with delicious bonhomie and maximum theatrics. She and Koch enjoy a sexy chemistry that sizzles when the dialogue fizzles and the large cast spins around her axis in a pleasurable ballet of commotion and adventure.

Heavily-plotted and mainstream to the max but irresistibly entertaining.