When the director of Showgirls, Basic Instinct, and Robocop takes on a story that begins like The Diary of Anne Frank, you can bet your sweet ass that the heroine is going to shoot and screw her way out of trouble until she finally makes it to a kibbutz. Black Book, which did big business in Holland and arrives here with the cachet of an acclaimed foreign film about the Holocaust, would be plain-old kitsch if it didn’t cash in on the suffering of millions to get its low-brow action-adventure kicks. The word for this is Shoahxploitation.
How titillating is Black Book? At cliffhanger pace, Rachel (Carice van Houten) flees from her bombed-out hiding place, and Verhoeven runs down a comprehensive checklist of World War II tropes: endless narrow escapes through attics, trunks, and caskets, barges that get the Apocalypse Now treatment, resistance airdrops, backroom operations, midnight raids, botched kidnappings, prison breakouts, firing squads, and tense passport controls: “Papiere, bitte!” Oh no, we’re carrying secret microphones and suitcases stuffed with Jewish gold!
Plenty of machine-gun violence leads to gleeful close-ups of mass graves, and Verhoeven doesn’t skimp on the sex, either. When good men are imprisoned, it’s clear that somebody must sleep with the occupiers to free them. Graphic Jew-on-German action follows, and in one extended scene, our dedicated heroine colors her pubic hair to fool the Obersturmbannführer (Sebastian Koch). In turn, drunken fascist swine piss in front of their whores, and our heroine has to vomit a little. And you know if there’s a shitbucket, Verhoeven won’t be satisfied with a simple close-up: somebody has to dump it out over someone else, preferably a naked woman.
I can’t even begin to tell you how tired I am of movies where the murderous villains carry my father’s name, and the Nazis in Black Book are about as three-dimensional as the ones in Indiana Jones. With Starship Troopers, Verhoeven himself created a compelling satire of fascism. There is a entire tradition of very good and very necessary movies about the Holocaust and the Resistance, but is it asking too much that they grow more insightful rather than more graphic and exploitative? Black Book pretends to bring news about duplicity and treachery and the odd bedfellows that wartime makes, but it’s obvious that nothing gets Verhoeven as excited as the cold steel of a Nazi gun against hard Jewish nipples.
Zwartboek. Paul Verhoeven, 2006. *