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'Black Book' Takes Verhoeven Back Home

The 68-year-old director Paul Verhoeven hasn't made a film in his native Holland since his 1983 thriller The Fourth Man.

That picture led to a long and lucrative career making Hollywood action, suspense, and sci-fi movies, including Starship Troopers, Showgirls and Basic Instinct.

For Black Book, Verhoeven returns to the milieu of his 1977 film Soldier of Orange, which focused on the Dutch resistance in World War II, along with those who betrayed it. Critic David Edelstein says the story Verhoeven puts onscreen in Black Book is "lush and romantic" — and "old-fashioned in a way that's thrilling."

04:28

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Other segments from the episode on April 13, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 13, 2007: Interview with Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill; Obituary for Kurt Vonnegut; Review of the film "Black Book."

Transcript

DATE April 13, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill discuss their
documentary "Baghdad ER"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave DAVIES, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

The HBO documentary "Baghdad ER," has been honored with a Peabody Award for
excellence in broadcasting. The film, now available on DVD, tells the story
of wounded soldiers and their doctors at the 86th Combat Support Hospital, the
Army's premier medical facility in Iraq. It was shot over the course of two
months in 2005.

Last year Terry Gross spoke to the filmmakers, Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill.
Alpert, the senior member of the duo, has won 12 Emmy Awards for his
documentaries.

Over 3200 Americans have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, but over 24,000
have been wounded. This film graphically shows the condition of the wounded
soldiers, many of whom have had limbs blown off by IEDs, improvised explosive
devices, or have had limbs amputated in the hospital. Here's a short scene
from the film in which we hear two wounded soldiers at the hospital calling
home to break the news.

(Soundbite from film "Baghdad ER")

Unidentified Man #1: Hey, mom.

Unidentified Woman #1: Hey, how are you?

Man #1: Um...

Woman #1: Where are you at?

Man #1: I'm in a hospital.

Woman #1: Where?

Man #1: I don't know where the hell I am. I'm in a hospital somewhere.
Yeah. I got hit by an IED today.

Woman #1: OK. Are you--what's wrong? How are you?

Man #1: I'm not too bad considering the way the vehicle looked.

Unidentified Man #2: Honey?

Unidentified Woman #2: Hey, honey.

Man #2: How you doing? I'm doing, you know, fine, but guess what? I got hit
with IED. Well, I was gunning. Yeah. All it did was, you know, I was on top
of the vehicle like where Davis is at, and all I heard was the explosion. It
happened so fast.

(End of soundbite)

TERRY GROSS, host:

Jon Alpert, Matthew O'Neill welcome to FRESH AIR.

Jon, why did you want to make a movie about an emergency room--about a combat
hospital in Baghdad?

Mr. JON ALPERT: I thought it might be a way to be able to show both the
horror of war, which I think people really always need to know about if the
country is at war, and also the heroism of the people that we're sending over
there to fight that war. I thought we might find those two things
intersecting in the emergency room of the hospital in Baghdad.

GROSS: Would you describe the combat hospital that you ended up filming?

Mr. ALPERT: Yeah, it's easier for us to describe in words because we weren't
allowed to film the exterior for security purposes. That was one of the
conditions of our embedded agreement, that we couldn't do anything to
compromise the safety of the soldiers. And we followed that agreement to the
letter. The Army's obligation on their part was to give us total access to
the hospital, and they followed that to the letter.

This is a hospital that's not very big. It has an emergency room that has
four beds in it, and it has an operating room that has four beds in it. And
sometimes you can't fit all the people in and the helicopters keep coming.
The bodies are loaded off the helicopter with limbs dangling and blood
spurting out. And it's one of the most frightening things I've ever seen in
my life, but also one of the most heroic when you see these doctors go to work
and try to save lives.

GROSS: Well, you show a lot of violence in the film. And, I mean, you don't
show the violence, you show the results of violence. You're showing a part of
war that the public is usually protected from, a part that soldiers are often
reluctant to talk about when they return home, and referring to really
grotesque open wounds. Amputations, we see part of an amputation. We see one
of the doctors, or perhaps a nurse, taking a removed limb and discarding it in
a special trash bag. How did you decide how graphic you would allow the film
to be?

Mr. ALPERT: We actually decided that we couldn't show the reality of that
hospital because it was too graphic. If you've never seen an amputation, it's
something that scars you forever. And we backed way off. The first cut of
this program was so violent that it sent people screaming out of the room.
And we wanted to show the reality of war, but we just couldn't. And the
soldiers are actually surprised because they said, `Wow, this is nothing
compared to what was going on there every single day. You're just showing the
pinky on the amputated hand.' And we just had to do that because we wanted
people to be able to get through the whole program and to be able to
understand the horror of the war without saying, `I can't watch this' and
tuning in an "American Idol" program instead.

GROSS: Yeah. You know, one of the things that you witness up close in the
movie is the vulnerability, the frailty of the human body. I mean, we see
bodies really torn up. And I guess I wonder if you asked yourself is during a
war a bad time to be focusing on how vulnerable the human body is in war?

Mr. ALPERT: I don't think there is a more appropriate time to focus on the
vulnerability of the human body. I mean, this film shows you the horror of
what man can do to man. And it's important to recognize that any war, and
this war in particular, involved a lot of frail human bodies getting hurt by
very crude instruments of destruction. You know these IEDs are put together
with spit and bubble gum wrapped around nails and whatever other detritus that
the insurgents can find to create a bomb. And that's part of the reason why
the wounds are so dangerous and so many infections come from them, because
they're not coming in with bullet wounds; they're coming in literally
exploded, blown up.

GROSS: Could you talk a little bit more about why these wounds are so
problematic to treat?

Mr. ALPERT: When the soldiers come in injured from an IED attack, they often
don't look like people anymore because, as I said, the improvised explosive
devices are put together sometimes from garbage. So they cause all sorts of
horrific infections. And that's part of the reason that the combat support
hospital works so hard to get the soldiers out of the war zone as quickly as
possible.

One of the things that I found very interesting was the speed with which they
would move a soldier from the site of his injury all the way out to Landstuhl,
Germany, where they have their first-class, first world medical facility. And
you could get injured on a street in Baghdad and in less than 10 hours be in a
German hospital. The resources that are put to try and save the lives of, not
only American soldiers, but injured Iraqis and, in many cases, the people who
are trying to kill our soldiers, the enemies of our soldiers, is just amazing.
And the hospital was filled with as many Iraqis as they had wounded soldiers.

GROSS: What did you have to do to get permission from the doctors to film in
the hospital? Or did they have to give you your permission? What about the
soldiers? I mean, you have soldiers, in the beginning of the film, you have
soldiers being wheeled in on gurneys, naked, with their bodies torn up from
these IED explosions. Do they give their permission before or after?

Mr. ALPERT: Every soldier you see receiving care in this film by the 86th
cache, signed a release. And the doctors and the hospital staff and the
soldiers themselves were all very rightfully proud of the work that's going on
at the combat support hospital, and so they were, in most cases, eager to do
so.

On Monday night we screened the film down in Washington with a number of the
soldiers who were in the film and with a number of the doctors from the cache.
And one soldier came up to me afterwards, and I had been very nervous about
him seeing the film for the first time because he's one of those soldiers that
you see in a very tender, very emotional moment after having lost one of his
comrades. And when I asked him to sign the release in Baghdad, he hesitated.
And he said, `Are you guys going to use this for a politically manipulative
film? Is this going to be another "Fahrenheit 911?"' And I promised him that
it wouldn't be. And I promised him that we would take a completely objective
point of view, and it would be an apolitical film. But I never knew how he
would feel about sharing that moment with a national audience. And he came up
to me after the film, and he thanked me because he said that we did it. We
managed not to have a political bent on this film. And then his comrade who
was there with him in the hospital said, `And you know what? I think it's
important for Americans to know that sometimes soldiers cry.'

GROSS: Well, you know, I'm really glad you brought this up because I think
there's two times in the movie when soldiers cry. And both of those times
they're crying because of the death of a buddy. Nobody in the movie's crying
over themselves. The soldiers are so stoic about their own injuries. I just
found it amazing. When you look at what's happening to their bodies, and
they're just dealing with it. It was just remarkable to me.

Mr. O'NEILL: Before we went over, every commander we spoke to in the Army
would tell us that we would be shocked how every soldier that got injured, the
first thing he would do was ask to go back.

GROSS: Yeah. And you show that. You show that. There's a guy who's got
shrapnel in his eye. He might be blinded forever in that eye. And when the
surgeon tells him that they're going to have to send him to the United States
or Germany for the surgery, he looks very, I mean, he's controlling his
disappointment and anger because he doesn't want to leave. And that too was
very surprising to me.

Mr. ALPERT: And that soldier's actually back in Iraq. Through modern
military medicine he regained all of his eyesight. And a couple of months ago
I called his home, hoping to speak to him and see how he was doing, and I got
his wife on the line, and she said to me, `Oh, no, you know, he got 20/20
vision.' And I said that's fantastic. And there was silence. She said,
`Well, now he's in Kuwait on his way back to Baghdad.' And it's interesting.
These guys who are getting patched up after horrific injuries really are doing
everything in their power to get back into the fight. And really, I think, to
get back to their buddies because the bonds that they form with each other are
very, very strong.

Mr. MATTHEW O'NEILL: Yeah, there were a couple of things that really
surprised me about our experience in Iraq, and one was the adhesion that the
soldiers have for each other. And when you're over in Iraq, it's not a
pleasant environment. It's 130 degrees. It's 140 degrees. There are people
waiting around almost every corner to blow you up into little pieces. And in
many cases, if you ask the soldiers what they're fighting for, maybe they
don't even know, but their buddy is next to them. Their buddy is there to
protect them. And you're going through this together and you cannot let your
buddy down.

Mr. ALPERT: They're fighting for each other.

Mr. O'NEILL: Yep.

GROSS: What kind of training do the doctors at this combat hospital have?
They're called on to do things, the medicine's just really different than what
you'd be doing say at an emergency room in the United States. I mean, as
you've described, you have these IEDs with horrible pieces of filthy shrapnel.
And then there's a lot of amputations that are performed. What kind of
training to they have before they actually get there?

Mr. O'NEILL: In many cases, unfortunately, there is nothing that can prepare
anyone for what they wind up encountering. It's like being dropped off into
the middle of the "Chainsaw Massacre." And there's nothing that can prepare
you for that. And the doctors say that. How in the world can you prepare
somebody to amputate two legs and two arms every single day? You can't.
There's no training for it. And often there's no cure for the disturbances
that you suffer, except that you know that you're doing the right thing and
that you're helping people. And that's what gets them through it. They wake
up in the morning knowing that they're going to save somebody's life that day.
And it helps them deal with the really scary things that come in the door.

Mr. ALPERT: And the unfortunate fact that they'll probably lose someone that
day, too.

GROSS: You know, you told us a little bit about getting the permission of the
doctors and of the injured soldiers. Was it hard to get permission from the
military to make the movie in the first place?

Mr. ALPERT: The military was astonishingly cooperative. We became
officially embedded, and there's a 13-page embedded agreement that has some
fine print in it. But basically it boiled down to just a couple of very
simple things. We couldn't to anything to compromise the security of any of
the installations and the security of the soldiers. So in this film you won't
see any nice exteriors. You have really no idea where the hospital is
located. And that's to make it difficult for people to drive bombs into the
hospital.

And our obligation to the Army was to give them the film, so that they could
look at it and comment on it, but not so they could censor it. We weren't
obligated to do anything in reaction to their viewing. And the Army was
obligated to facilitate our trip, to give us access, to feed us, to protect
us. And in the almost 40 years of filmmaking, I have never received such
cooperation from anyone. They let us film anything we wanted. The only thing
we couldn't film were some of the enemy combatants who came into the hospital.
And that's only because the Geneva Convention doesn't allow you to parade
prisoners in front of cameras. Otherwise, they would have let us film it.

GROSS: But let me stop you there. So the doctors were treating enemy
combatants?

Mr. O'NEILL: A lot of them. You know, I mean, they--I got really excited
because this was one of the few different things that happened. You know,
normally you hear the chk, chk, chk, chk, chks from the helicopters, and you
go, gosh, here it comes again. And in comes a half of a body on a gurney with
somebody desperately pumping on their chest trying to keep them alive.

But one day this guy in an orange jumpsuit came in. He was manacled hands,
manacled feet, and he had these really weird goggles on. We're like, `Oh,
this is different.' I go running across the room with my camera and almost got
tackled by the public affairs officer. And I said, `Oh, gosh, why don't they
want me to film this?' And she explained, `This is an enemy combatant and the
Geneva Convention does not allow us to let you take pictures of him.'

But there were a lot of them. And it's really strange. You'll have on one
bed an American soldier who's blown into smithereens, desperately trying to
keep this guy alive. And on the other bed is the guy that was trying to kill
him. And they're trying to save both of these guys' lives. And they're
working just as hard on both of them. That was amazing.

GROSS: How did the doctors feel about that?

Mr. ALPERT: I think they had some pretty complicated emotions when it came
right down to it. It didn't stop them from doing their best job
professionally, but I think it was one of the more difficult things that they
wrestled with. I remember one operating room nurse telling me that after a
certain insurgent came in and they saved his life, and they saved his life by
replacing the blood he had lost with American blood, with the blood that they
had in their blood bank there. And she said that she waited until that
insurgent woke up, and she grabbed one of the translators because she wanted
him to know that the blood that had saved his life had been the blood of
American soldiers.

DAVIES: Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill directed the documentary "Baghdad ER."
We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Jon Alpert and Matthew
O'Neill recorded last year. Their documentary "Baghdad ER" about a combat
hospital in Iraq has just been selected for a Peabody Award.

Let's hear another clip from the film.

(Soundbite from "Baghdad ER")

Unidentified Man #3: This is for like one of the things we don't like to do
is see anybody hurt, we issue a Purple Heart. It's one of the nation's
richest, most valued and respected awards given to those that are injured in
combat. Be proud to wear this for the rest of your life. On behalf of the
president and a grateful nation..

Unidentified Man #4: OK.

Man #3: ...we present you the Purple Heart...

Man #4: All right.

Man #3: ...for wounds received in combat.

Man #4: All right.

Man #3: Your mission, get better.

Man #4: All right.

Man #3: You get better quick.

Man #4: All right.

Man #3: And we'll see you soon.

Man #4: OK.

Man #3: Proud to serve with you.

Man #4: All right.

That's one award I never wanted to see me get.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: There's an image, and this isn't at all gory, this image I'm about to
describe, but it really sticks with me. You know, I always thought that when
a wounded soldier gets a Purple Heart that, in my mind, it was always like
after they'd recovered a little bit and they were in their military uniform,
that the Purple Heart is then pinned on the uniform. That was the image
always in my mind. In your movie, you show a man who's on the gurney, who's
just been injured, he's not wearing clothes, he's bare chested. And the
Purple Heart is just placed on his bare chest. And he might still be kind of
in shock because he's not showing a lot of emotion. And I just found that...

Mr. ALPERT: Well, you know what's happening--I'm sorry.

GROSS: ...a very, very moving moment. Go ahead.

Mr. ALPERT: What's interesting about him at that moment is that he has one
of the largest tears that I've ever seen rolling down his cheek because he's
still remembering his friend who had his face completely blown off and was
killed right next to him in the humvee.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. ALPERT: And that's sort of an interesting irony that he's being praised
for his service while he's weeping for his lost comrade. And then as the
scene continues, they wheel in his other buddy, who's also on a gurney, also
half clothed, and they basically hold each other and weep.

GROSS: Did every soldier who came to that hospital have the Purple Heart
placed on their chest like was done to this soldier?

Mr. ALPERT: No. Not all Purple Heart ceremonies are performed that way.
Although, walking around the hospital, you will see a lot of Purple Hearts
pinned to pillows. Purple Hearts are awarded in the field sometimes, back at
hospitals in Germany and in the United States. It really depends under what
circumstances they think it's best to give you that award. And I think in
some ways it's linked to something that struck me about the entire military
structure was the attention to emotional well-being of the soldiers. So that
if a commander thought it somehow would be helpful in healing to receive that
award, he would present it still as they're recovering from the wounds that
they received in combat. And a lot of decisions were made in those moments to
try to help soldiers find closure with the horrors they were experiencing.

And another thing you see in the film along those lines is the constant
presence of a chaplain inside the hospital. Now, that chaplain was
responsible for every soldier that came in the door, plus the 350 members of
the combat support hospital who were witnessing that horror every day. And he
just worked double shifts for every day he was in Iraq. And the Army places
as much importance on the spiritual care and the mental care of these soldiers
as they do on the physical care. And that was another unexpected thing that I
witnessed there in Baghdad.

DAVIES: Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill speaking with Terry Gross. Their
documentary "Baghdad ER" about a combat hospital in Iraq has been selected for
a Peabody Award. They'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave DAVIES, filling in for Terry Gross.
Let's get back to Terry's interview with filmmakers Jon Alpert and Matthew
O'Neill. Their HBO documentary "Baghdad ER" has been honored with a 2006
Peabody Award. The film was cited as `a horrifying and humbling testament to
the dedication of medical personnel confronting the overwhelming carnage of
war.' The film is now out on DVD.

GROSS: At the end of the film, one of the soldiers in the hospital dies, and
the chaplain says a prayer over his body. And what I'd like to do is actually
play that prayer, play that scene.

(Soundbite from film "Baghdad ER")

Unidentified Chaplain: Was he Catholic?

Unidentified Man #5: He is no religious preference, sir.

Chaplain: I see. So we won't do any...

Man #5: Last rights.

Chaplain: Right. Offer just a prayer for his life and...

Man #5: I'll pray with you.

Chaplain: Yeah, terrific, sir.

Man #5: All right.

Chaplain: OK. Let's pray. Heavenly Father, gracious God. We did everything
we could to save his life. The EMT worked very hard and the surgeons, and,
Lord, we did everything we could. Lord, we pray that his life and his death
would hasten the cause of peace of this senseless war, this violence here
would end...(unintelligible)...the last. Lord, again, we pray for Your
comfort and Your peace on his family and friends. And we say thank you for
his life. In Christ's name I pray, Amen.

Man #5: Amen. Thank you...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's a chaplain in a combat hospital in Baghdad from the new
documentary "Baghdad ER."

Do you think that having the camera in front of your eyes helped distance you
in some way from all the carnage that you were seeing in the hospital and
enabled you to see it? Like would it have been harder to see without having
the camera between you and the injuries?

Mr. ALPERT: I don't know if it was so much the camera or the job because to
have to stand in that room without having a job to do would be humiliating
because everyone around you was moving at a hundred miles an hour trying to
save somebody's life. And I think it deepened our sense of purpose and
responsibility about the story we were going to tell because this camera that
we were holding in our hands was our tool to do something about this
situation. And you felt so acutely your responsibility because you were
surrounded by doctors who felt responsibility for saving that life. And as
far as the technical use of the camera, it was so much easier to worry about
how my shot was framed and whether or not I had two channels of audio coming
through the camera than it was to actually think about the 19-year-old that
was dying in front of the lens.

GROSS: Do you have nightmares after having seen so much suffering and so many
amputations?

Mr. O'NEILL: Well, you know, Terry, everybody gets affected in different
ways. And I like to think that I'm a tough guy, and that I can take all this.
But I was flying back on the airplane, coming off of Iraq, and they were
showing a movie. I hadn't seen a movie or a television in two months. And it
was some cartoon movie called "Stripes" about a zebra that competes in the
Kentucky Derby and the little girl that took care of him. And as the movie's
reaching its conclusion, as the zebra wins the race and the little girl hugs
him, I began weeping. I'm actually starting to cry now. I began weeping
uncontrollably, and everybody who was sitting next to me on the plane began to
wonder, `Why is this guy crying about this cartoon movie?' And I came back and
I told Matt that story, and he had a similar experience on his plane.

Mr. O'NEILL: And I had the same experience watching an Ashton Kutcher movie
where, in the end, he's singing to his love, you know, long lost love with a
guitar, a movie that I would usually guffaw at and make fun of, and found
myself sitting on this plane with the tears coming down my face. I think, you
know, there's so much pent-up emotion from the time that we were there that
once we were out it just came flowing.

GROSS: Jon, do you think that's what it was about?

Mr. ALPERT: I have to believe that because you just have to stuff all this
stuff deep, deep inside you; otherwise you'd get paralyzed, and at the most
unexpected time there's something that triggers those emotions. And I don't
cry. I'm sitting here in the studio right now with tears running down my
face, and I'm somewhat embarrassed.

Mr. O'NEILL: It's the strangest triggers. There's, whenever I smell dirty
feet, stinky feet, it takes me right back into the emergency room...

GROSS: Why? Mm-hmm.

Mr. O'NEILL: ...because these soldiers would come in injured after having
been on patrol, and sometimes they wouldn't have had a chance to take a shower
or wash their feet for over a week. And I remember vividly one big
strong-looking Marine who is in the film and who lost his life, and he was so
strong and his feet smelled so terrible, just like my feet smell after I've
been hiking in the woods or working hard doing something. And the entire time
I was with him, as the doctors fought to save his life, I smelled his stinky
feet. And now I'm almost obsessive about keeping my feet clean because every
time I smell bad feet it takes me back to that moment and back to that sense
of helplessness that there was nothing I could do to help save this Marine's
life, while all the doctors around had all the skills to try to save him, and
I was helpless to do anything. But in the end, you know, they were all
helpless to do anything.

GROSS: I want to thank you both so much for talking with us about your movie.
Thank you very much.

Mr. O'NEILL: Thanks Terry.

DAVIES: Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill directed the documentary "Baghdad ER"
about the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq. It's been selected for a
Peabody Award for broadcast excellence, which will be presented in June at a
ceremony in New York.

Coming up, we remember novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who died Wednesday.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Review: Film critic David Edelstein on Paul Verhoeven's film
"Black Book"

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Director Paul Verhoeven hasn't made a film in his native Holland since his
1983 thriller "The Fourth Man," which led to a long and lucrative Hollywood
career making action suspense and sci-fi movies. His new film "Black Book"
returns to the setting of his 1977 film "Soldier of Orange," which focused on
the Dutch resistance in World War II and those who betrayed it. Film critic
David Edelstein has this review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: After the Dutch director Paul Verhoeven conquered
Hollywood with the sardonic splatter-fest "RoboCop" and the swank noir "Basic
Instinct," and got down in the muck with the high camp "Showgirls," he
returned to his native Holland to make "Black Book." Verhoeven must have had
surgery to get his tongue detached from his cheek. The movie is old-fashioned
in a way that's thrilling. It's a great piece of storytelling, a
cloak-and-dagger picture that's lush and romantic with just enough
Verhoevenesque cynicism, at least until the last act, to give it an edge.

The movie is set in Holland under Nazi occupation. Its heroine a young Jewish
woman played by Carice van Houten. Her name is Rachel, but it's changed to
Ellis when she ends up working for the Dutch resistance after her family is
betrayed to the Nazis. She dyes her hair blond and goes undercover at Gestapo
headquarters. And there she sleeps with the head man, Muntze, played by
Sebastian Koch, the conscience ridden playwright from "The Lives of Others."

Now the vast majority of filmmakers drop to their knees whenever Nazis and
Jews show up in the same movie. But Verhoeven doesn't let the Holocaust
paralyze him with solemnity. Through Rachel's eyes we see the German
occupation of the Netherlands in a way that turns our standard perceptions
topsy-turvey. The Dutch who risked their lives to hide Jews sometimes
betrayed them to save their non-Jewish countrymen. Resistance fighters make
secret deals with Germans. The resistance is still lionized in Holland, where
"Black Book" has caused an outcry. But to my mind, the ambivalent portraits
make these saviors seem more complicated and more human.

We also see that the Gestapo knows how to throw swell parties. "Black Book"
peaks when Rachel, who has a gorgeous voice, finds herself singing a bawdy
song accompanied by the piano stylings of the Nazi who ordered her family
shot. The scene is frightening, glamorous, exhilarating, disgusting. As
Rachel's Resistance lover, played by Hans Akkermans, watches her come and go
from Muntze's bed, "Black Book" recalls Hitchcock's emotionally labyrinthine
double agent melodrama "Notorious." And then it goes in unexpected directions.

Most of Verhoeven's movies show women getting far by using their feminine
wiles and hot bods, and critics are divided on whether this is sexism or a
very bitter realism. I think it's a bit of both, but I respect Verhoeven for
calling the question in his work so bluntly.

Now before I yell `Auteur! Auteur!' it's important to say that in the last 20
minutes or so, the director's trademark cynicism swamps the picture to the
point of absurdity. The indignities Rachel suffers are like something out of
the horror film "Carrie," and there are so many crosses and double crosses
that I gave up trying to diagram the conspiracy. We know there were moral
upheavals in the first months of the postwar era. Mobs assaulted and strung
up collaborators. The American military coddled some Nazis in anticipation of
the next war with the Soviets, but something is kerflooey in a movie where you
root for the Jewish girl to run away with the nice Gestapo fellow. Even these
cavils are testament to "Black Book"'s marvelous storytelling. Linear, but
with killer curves.

Which brings me to Carice van Houten, with her soft, heart-shaped face and
blue eyes. I don't mean to drool. I just think the movie wouldn't work if
Verhoeven hadn't found an actress so naturally ripely beautiful that it's
unthinkable she wouldn't use the weapons she has, and in the world of "Black
Book" pay a terrible price.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.

(Credits)

DAVIES: Terry Gross returns Monday. I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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