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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unrelenting darkness... but exquisitely made and directed, 10 April 2009
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This review is from: Black Book [Blu-ray] [2006] (Blu-ray)
This is Paul Verhoeven's first major film in Dutch since he became a Hollywood celebrity. If you were expecting Basic Instinct, Total Recall or Robocop set in Holland, then this is going to be a serious surprise. This is as absolutely uncompromising as a second-world war resistance drama can be. Filmed in four languages (in order, English, Hebrew, Dutch and German), and with a minimum of unnecessary explanation, Zwartboek (Black Book) is shot almost entirely as a single flash-back by its heroine, Rachel, aka Ellis de Vries. This is its sole crumb of consolation -- we know from the beginning that both the heroine and her friend will survive it. From there, we are taken through a desperate, complex and passionate tale of betrayal, love, hatred, greed, misfortune, and, ultimately, brutal revenge.

Zwartboek is a story of unrelenting darkness, bitterly exposing one by one the greed of collaborators, the decadence of the Nazis, the heartlessness of traitors, the futility of much of the resistance, the moral weakness of the liberating armies, the fury of the liberated Dutch against anyone to whom was attached the accusation 'collaborator', and the savage hatred of the film's two most sympathetic characters when they finally identify and capture their traitor. As the Canadian officer puts it to the crowd that has gathered to humiliate imprisoned collaborators, 'you are worse than the Nazis'.

This film made an enormous splash in the Netherlands when it was released, and must have stirred many bitter memories for its older generation. The fact that it could be released at all is a testimony to the Dutch atmosphere of openness and questioning everything.

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If you're looking at the Blu-Ray edition, then you probably want to know if its worth getting in the high definition format. It is. Anne Dudley's exquisite score is marvellously brought across, and Verhoeven's achingly detailed cinematography benefits from the highest definition your system affords. Interestingly, it's supplied as two discs -- one is the Blu-Ray, the other is the DVD. I'm not quite sure why this is, though it may be the publishers are trying to tempt those who have not yet switched to Blu-Ray to invest in this set.

The extras are nothing particularly special, but the film's historical background is so meticulous that little more is needed. The English subtitles aren't particularly subtle or well-made, failing to capture the off-hand subtleties of the Dutch dialogue. The Dutch itself is the only anachronism, as, unlike the superbly stylised English of ITV's series Foyle's War, Verhoeven chose to have his characters speak in the Dutch of 2005, not 1945.

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All in all, a superb film, well transferred to Blu-Ray. Why only four stars? This film can be summarised in Ellis's cry to Akkermans right at the end, 'houdt het nooit op? -- will it never stop?'. This is underlined by the very closing moments, when troops arrive to protect Kibbutz Stein, named for Rachel's family and funded from the recovered stolen money, at the beginning of the Suez crisis. But Black Book is not a true story, though Verhoeven claimed it was based on 'real events'. The endless confusion and darkness is the deliberate decision of the film-maker, not a reflection of what the war was really like. There are many powerful, true, redeeming stories which came out of the Dutch resistance. This fictional story is less than they are.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 May 2010 16:14:02 BDT
If you are buying this because it has dvd and blu ray together don't bother I ordered it and there was only the blu ray disk there now I'll have to buy the dvd separately as well. The film is that good I need it in both formats!
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