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Film / Black Book

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Black Book (Zwartboek in Dutch) is a 2006 Dutch historical spy / drama film directed and written by Paul Verhoeven.

Set in late 1944/early 1945, during the last months of the Occupation of The Netherlands by Nazi Germany, the story follows Rachel Stein (Carice Van Houten), a Jewish woman who, after her hiding place is bombed and her family is killed after being ambushed when trying to reach liberated territories, becomes involved with the resistance in The Hague. She dyes her hair blonde, changes her name to "Ellis de Vries" and seduces Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch), the Hauptsturmführer of the local Nazi security service, for spy purposes. This gets her an administrative job at the HQ, where she comes across the man responsible for killing her family.

Following this is romance, more escape attempts, deception and betrayal, continuing even as the Allied tanks are rolling in and liberating the country.

This was Verhoeven's first Dutch film after more than twenty years working in Hollywood. It's a Spiritual Antithesis of sorts to his earlier war/resistance film Soldier of Orange.

Not to be confused with the British series Black Books.

Provides examples of:

  • Adolf Hitlarious: At one point Hans puts on a fake hitler mustache to make a mocking speech mourning the collaborator Van Gein after the resistance kills him.
  • All Issues Are Political Issues: Drinking to the Queen is a problem if you're a Communist.
  • America Won World War II: Averted. The Allies seen are either Canadian or British, who were actually assigned the job of advancing into the Netherlands and Northern Germany; the Americans advanced through Belgium, North-East France and then Rhineland and Southern Germany. The only Americans seen are the B-17 bomber that drops its load on top of the house Rachel was staying at after it was hit by German flak.
  • Anti-Villain: Müntze.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Or possibly a variation on Vorpal Pillow. In the movie, Hans suffocates in barely a couple of minutes. In Real Life, anyone trapped in a coffin would take several hours to die.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Dr. Hans Akkermans is one of the morally just, a doing-the-best-with-what's-available type rather than the skeevy, barely competent sort. Of course it turns out Akkermans was selling information on his clients to the Germans.
  • Bald of Evil: General Kautner, whose only redeeming quality is that he doesn't loot the corpses of the Jews he has killed.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Müntze was a good-looking man while Franken, well, not so much.
  • Berserk Button / Disproportionate Retribution: Theo is ultra-Christian and can't bring himself to kill. Even if you shoot at and strangle his friends, Theo won't kill you. Set up wealthy Jewish families for death, Theo won't kill you. Blaspheme, Theo will kill you.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Multilingual, really. One will hear Dutch, German, English, and Hebrew.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: While a few of the Nazis and collaborators are portrayed as flat-out vile, the Hauptsturmführer is a friendly Nazi willing to negotiate a truce, and no one on the good side really comes out shining, not even the devout Christian.
  • Bodybag Trick: A somewhat more old-fashioned variation, with people crossing checkpoints using coffins, deathly make-up, and stories of contagious diseases. Doesn't work for Hans. After getting caught, it's made into a deathtrap by screwing it shut all nice and tight-like.
  • Break the Haughty: General Kautner is left visibly terrified, and desperate when Muntze attacks and nearly strangles him to death after Kautner manages to get him sentenced to death/
  • The Cameo: Famous Dutch comedian and actor Theo Maassen is one of the post-liberation abusers of collaborators.
  • The Cast Show Off: All the songs sung by Rachel/Ellis are sung by Carice van Houten herself.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Ellis/Rachel talks about a diabetic man from her cabaret days who'd eat some chocolate when he'd take too much insulin. Towards the end of the movie, she uses this knowledge when Hans tries to kill her with an overdose of insulin.
  • Les Collaborateurs
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Hans is suffocated to death in a coffin he was trying to use to escape.
  • Crusading Lawyer: Smaal. He gets Jews the necessary recourses to flee the country, represents captured Resistance members and tries to ensure their fair treatment, and even when he suspects who the mole is after the war, says that the man deserves the right to a fair trial.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Müntze isn't married, though he used to be.
  • Deadly Deferred Conversation: At the end of the war, Smaal tells Rachel that he knows who the traitor is but will not say so except to the lawful Canadian authorities, to ensure a fair investigation. Naturally he gets killed before he can get there.
  • Dye or Die: Rachel has to bleach her black hair to pass as Ellis. All of it. The audience is treated to a scene in which part of the job is being done. It's not the part that involves the hair on her head.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: In order to get into SD HQ.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: Between Ellis and a member of the resistance group during a train-wide identity check.
  • Fan Disservice: Full frontal nudity from the obese and disgusting Franken. Rachel is put through a Humiliation Conga by the Dutch resistance as punishment for sleeping with a Nazi, which involves her being stripped naked, forced to sing Happy Days are Here Again, gets hits with a stick to get her in position, has a full bucket of crap dumped on her (apparently placed there just for that reason), and they finally finish her off by "cleaning" her with a high-pressure fire hose. Another example is the first sex scene with the aforementioned Nazi - "Is this Jewish?".
  • Friendly Enemy: Müntze, while a Nazi officer and therefore firmly on the wrong side of things, is a friendly, kind man trying to do good.
  • Friend or Foe?
  • From Bad to Worse: Pretty much the whole plot, and that's saying something with a movie where the lead's whole family was killed in the first ten minutes.
  • Genre Savvy: Munze quickly figures out Rachel is a Resitance member when an important collaborator happens to get killed just after this woman appears and becomes his lover.
  • Hairy Girl: Rachel's pubic hair is completely unshaven, which we see as she's dying it blonde as part of a disguise (along with the hair on her head). This was common for European women then (and now).
  • Hate Sink: Günther Franken. He's a fat and salacious bastard who had Jews lured into a fake escape route to massacre them and loot their possessions, has La Résistance think Rachel is part of Les Collaborateurs, had the same Resistance network mostly wiped out in a trap along with getting Ludwig Müntze arrested which will lead to his death, and he gets off scot free with his loot and without a punishment from the Allies. Granted, Karma Houdini Warranty kicks in courtesy of Akkermans, but the few bullets he gets don't feel enough for all the suffering he caused and he doesn't get killed out of justice.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The Dutch resistance driven by Revenge Before Reason against the Nazis and the Dutch collaborators makes them no different from their occupiers when they enact their Pay Evil unto Evil, especially towards the Les Collaborateurs after Allied victory.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Müntze, who is Shot at Dawn after the war ended despite being a Token Good Teammate of the SS and tried to negotiate with the resistance.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Rachel, after being framed as a collaborator.
  • How We Got Here: The movie opens in Israel in the 1950s when a Christian tour group visits a kibbutz and one of the group members by chance encounters the main protagonist Rachel, her friend from the Second World War period, who she didn't realize was Jewish. The movie then flashes back to tell Rachel's story.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: All over the place.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • If you're a former Nazi and a woman often seen to fraternize with Nazis, going back to a place where people will recognize you as such shortly after the liberation might not be such a good idea. And yet...
    • Akkermans trying to kill Rachel with an insulin overdose and leaves her alone with a bag he showed her minutes before was filled with family-size chocolate bars.
  • Inspector Javert: The Dutch resistance are this to Rachel under suspicion as a collaborator after her Frame-Up.
  • Inspired by…: The execution of Müntze is loosely based on the notorious execution of two German sailors in the Netherlands five days after the war ended.
  • Irony: Muntze is executed by a German firing squad for negotiating with the Resistance... after the liberation, because technically speaking Nazi-era German law is still in effect for officers. Hans lampshades it as absurd. It's especially jarring to see Canadian soldiers handing out rifles and bullets to German POWs whom they had recently been fighting.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: Muntze tries to get Franken executed, not for slaughtering escaping Jews, but keeping their valuables for himself which is a capital crime under Nazi law. Unfortunately the safe is empty, and Muntze is himself caught for working with the resistance.
  • Karma Houdini: Ronnie is a minor one, as she didn't do anything wrong besides fraternizing with the Nazis and she helps Muntze and Ellis to escape, but she still manages to escape unpunished for being a collaborator.
  • The Mole: Doctor Hans Akkermans, though Rachel/Ellis is initially suspected to be one.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Hans Akkermans again. Seems a good chap bravely fighting for the cause until we find out he wasn't quite that.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Ellis/Rachel and Ronnie are shown nude. It's a Paul Verhoeven movie with a female main character so it's a given.
  • Nazi Gold: The money Franken stole from the Jews he lured to their deaths. Possibly better described as plunder, as he didn't hand it over to his superiors and the Reich as he should have.
  • Noble Demon: Müntze is something of one as he was trying to negotiate with the resistance and was only killed because of it.
  • Noble Bigot: Gerben is a dedicated resistance member who does a fair bit to help people, but does not hide his belief that the lives of "good Dutchmen" are worth more than Jews when it comes down to the matter of who to save.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Dr. Akkermans is loosely based on the real-life French serial murderer Marcel Petiot, who killed Jews and other fugitives to take their belongings. Unlike Akkermans, Petiot had no connections with either the resistance or the Nazis. He just claimed to be part of an escape network that did not exist.
  • No Man Left Behind: Kees spends a while dragging Tim to safety while shooting at the Germans during the retreat from the jail, Before Tim is shot in his arms.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Kautner.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Kees is shot in the arm while trying to kidnap the collaborator Van Gein but Hans assures him that it's only a minor injury and Kees is back on his feet and fighting a couple days later.
  • Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: He's not.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil:
    • The man pretending to be a resistance member to lure Jews eager to leave occupied territory to their doom gets shot by the resistance when kidnapping him fails.
    • Franken gets killed by Hans Akkermans on his getaway boat when he attempts to leave the country with the valuable things he stole from the corpses of Jews.
    • After being found out, Hans attempts to escape the country, but Rachel and the former resistance leader catch up with him and leave him to suffocate in a coffin.
    • The treatment of the suspected collaborators, according to their jailers' view.
  • La Résistance
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Canadian Officer who Rachel ultimately takes her information too. Hans is this to the Resistance for most of the movie, then it turns out he's a traitor.
  • The Reveal: Dr. Hans Akkermans, a guy pretty high up in the resistance group and initially lauded as a hero by the people after the liberation, betrayed everyone and delivered entire families of Jews to the Nazis.
  • Rules Lawyer: After being arrested Kautner manages to use the Exact Words of various British official orders to Get Muntze executed.
  • Run for the Border: Rachel and her family tried to get to a liberated part of the country by boat. This was a set-up, organized by people who wanted to kill the Jews and take their valuables. Only Rachel survived and she did not manage to make it across.
  • Saved by the Coffin:
    • The Jewish refugee Rachel passes through German inspection to her new hiding place by posing as a corpse and being smuggled by a pair of sympathetic undertakers.
    • Subverted at the end when the treacherous Dr. Franken tries to escape with his loot through Allied inspection by hiding in a coffin transported by a corrupt undertaker he paid off. He is intercepted by the surviving two resistance members, and suffocated by bolting the casket shut.
  • Serendipitous Survival: Theo only survives the attempts jailbreak due to being outside waiting as the driver, while nearly everyone else is killed.
  • Shameful Strip: When Rachel is held prisoner by the Dutch resistance as punishment for sleeping with a Nazi, she is stripped naked as a form of humiliation.
  • Shot at Dawn: Müntze. No last minute heroic rescue.
  • Shout-Out: Ellis has to sing "Ich bin die fesche Lola" to entertain German officers. It was sung by Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.
  • Someday This Will Come in Handy: Ellis' knowledge of how to cure an insulin overdose (by consuming massive amounts of sugar).
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Ellis and Müntze.
  • Stout Strength: Resistance Memeber Kees is a bit hefty, but a solid figure (although he's more likely to use a gun than physical force) and tries to drag Tim to safety when the jailbreak is broken up.
  • Taking You with Me: Kautner's working to get Muntze executed has strong shades of this given that he is a prisoner of the Allies and is very clearly being investigated for war crimes by them. While his ultimate fate is unclear, it's doubtful that he pulled off a Karma Houdini.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: General Käutner has Müntze executed for treason, even though the war is already over and he won't be profiting from it in any way.
  • Token Religious Teammate: Theo.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Theo, a devout Christian who previously refused to kill even as his friends were threatened, ends up shooting a collaborator because he was very upset by the amount of blasphemy uttered by said collaborator. This causes him a great deal of anguish once the adrenaline has worn off.
  • Traumatic Haircut: A brief shot of Dutch women who dated Germans, getting their hair hacked off in the public square. Truth in Television.
  • Undertaker: Resistance member Joop, who smuggles Rachel past the Nazi's in a coffin at one point.
  • Undying Loyalty: Müntze's driver who helps Him and Rachel escape the SS.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After the war, Theo is seen helping Gerben excavate bodies killed by the Nazi's but does not take part in the climax, even though the information revealed there would have been meaningful to him.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: At the beginning Ronnie meets Rachel in Israel, some ten years after the war, which leads Rachel to remember certain events. After the final 1945 scene we return to Israel where we see her family and find out that the kibbutz was founded by reclaimed money the Nazis stole from Jews.

Alternative Title(s): Zwartboek