Dutch Movie on Netflix: Black Book Posted by Karoly Molina on Sep 11, 2019 in Culture, History
This past weekend at home, we came across a very popular Dutch film called Zwartboek or Black Book. This movie was released in 2006 and tells the story of survival of a Dutch-Jewish singer by the name of Rachel Stein during the last year of the Nazi occupation.
Zwartboek was written by Paul Verhoeven and Gerard Soeteman and starred Carice van Houten, German actor Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman and Halina Reijn. While the story is not fully based on real events, true events during the war are depicted in the movie. After working 20 years in the U.S., Verhoeven returned to the Netherlands to direct Zwartboek. Other Dutch movies from Verhoeven include De Vierde Man, Turks Fruit, Keetje Tippel and Soldaat van Oranje. All the mentioned movies, with the exception of Soldaat van Oranje, are based on best-selling Dutch novels.
The movie opens with Rachel Stein hiding at a farmhouse in exchange for learning about Christian faith. A bomb falls on the farmhouse while Rachel is away, and she is forced to find other ways to hide. She is momentarily reunited with her family who was also in hiding as they escape to Belgium. Unfortunately, the boat is intercepted by the Nazis and she is the sole survivor. Eventually, Rachel gets a non-Jewish alias as Ellis de Vries. She starts working with the Dutch resistance based in The Hague. Her work with the resistance leads her to work at the Nazi headquarters in The Hague under the SD commander Ludwig Müntze. Her double life lets her inform the resistance of the plans within the Nazi headquarters and she goes as far as putting in a microphone inside the building so the resistance can know the Nazi’s every move. In the process, she continues her relationship Müntze who discovers she is Jewish but doesn’t turn her in.
The pressure of the inevitable defeat of Nazi Germany makes the Nazi attacks even more dangerous and the work of the resistance even more necessary. With the help of Ellis, the resistance is able to plan a rescue mission of some of its people, however, this has to be done before they are executed. Ellis is caught up in the middle of her double life as the mounting pressure takes a toll on everyone. Even after the liberation of the Netherlands, Ellis is still forced to hide. She is adamant in discovering who profited from turning in wealthy Jewish families like hers. Her journey for truth sheds light on those people who had worked with both the Nazis and the resistance.
Zwartboek was a true success! The movie won most Dutch film awards called Gouden Kalf (Dutch version of the Oscars). It was also nominated for the BAFTA Awards and was the Dutch filmed submitted to the Academy Awards that year. It was voted the best Dutch movie ever in 2008 and was one of the highest grossing films in the country.
Although the movie was very successful, it received mixed reviews, particularly with its portrayal of the war. It does seem that at times it is way too easy for Ellis to fake an identity, to set a microphone in the office and to move around both worlds with no repercussions. The darkness usually portrayed in war movies is almost invisible in this movie, and yet, it is all taking place during the war, during the Hunger winter.
Perhaps this invisible darkness is what helps viewers appreciate that the characters in the movie are not intrinsically one thing or the other. With the exception of the brutal character of SD deputy Günther Franken, all characters do good and bad. Commander Ludwig Müntze, for example, discovers Ellis is Jewish but doesn’t seem to care and goes as far as covering for her when his life is at stake. This is a man at the top of the Nazi chain of command in the Netherlands. Ronnie, the other woman working at the Nazi headquarters, enjoys her relationship with Günther Franken and the stolen jewelry he gifts her. When the Netherlands is liberated, she quickly finds a Canadian solider to take care of her. Ronnie, however, also distracts the big Nazi players while another solider helps Müntze and Ellis escape. This contrast of good and bad is also seen in the resistance fighters not only in their actions, but also in their dialogue.
Another interesting point of Zwarteboek is the portrayal of the Netherlands after the war. Many people are publicly shamed and treated like animals based on accusations of collaborating with the Nazis. The movie clearly showcases the contrast of those deemed heros or helden and those labeled traitors or verraders.
The following video shows the making of the movie in the city centre of The Hague. You can also watch the trailer of the movie via this link (age-restricted video).
Have you seen this movie? What did you think of it?