Friday, May 18, 2007

Jason watches "Black Book"

And I'm kinda having trouble writing about it. If it was about a different war, or done by a different director, it would just be a very good movie. As it is, it's WWII, the heroine is a Jew, and it's directed by Paul Verhoeven--the director of "Showgirls".

Now Paul Verhoeven has done more than just "Showgirls", obviously. In his early career, he made a lot of movies in his native Holland (I haven't seen these). Then his Hollywood career has been up and down, although I must admit that "Robocop" is a guilty pleasure of mine. If I had to sum up his work in two words, that would be "subversive pervert". This is the guy who set "Robocop" in a future so bleak the only character who has a heart is literally a robot. This is the guy who made "Starship Troopers" allegedly without telling his cast it was actually an anti-war satire. This is the guy who famously sneaked that famous Sharon Stone leg-cross shot into "Basic Instinct" without her knowing (although personally, I believe she was in on it, and complained to drum up publicity. If you've only seen the director's cut like I have, she's naked so much the leg cross scene is a big piece of "so what"). This is the guy who made Kevin Bacon's penis a recurring joke in "Hollow Man". And finally, he's the guy who made "Showgirls", apparently without telling the cast he was making crap.

So now he makes a rather exploitative WWII action movie starring a Jewess who joins the Dutch resistance and goes undercover as a whore for a local Nazi official. Carice van Houten is an absolute trooper as the oft-naked star Rachel Stein/Ellis de Vries (including an early scene of her becoming very convincingly blond and a late scene of her being showered with feces). Verhoeven maintains his record of having a rather low opinion of mankind. His bit of subversion is breaking the Nazis are bad/Allies are good formula. In his world, everyone is bad. Rachel/Ellis is actually abused more by the victors, who think she really is a Nazi whore. Nazis are bad, liberators are bad, only Israel is good (and in these days, that's not exactly a popular statement). In fact, I don't know what the most subversive statement is: The fact that the most sympathetic character is a whore for the Nazis, or the fact that moving to a land where she's bordered on one side by the sea and three sides by people who want to drive her into the sea is a happy ending .

But ultimately, it's an exciting movie that emotionally engaged me with the characters. As I said, any other war or any other director it would just be a very good movie. As it is, it's a great movie, but a troubling one. The real question it raises is are we ready for a semi-exploitative movie about the Nazis? Cult audiences have always had "Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS" and its ilk (and sequels), but this isn't that. It's not straight exploitation, but it's putting a titillating, honky-tonk vibe on a story that would traditionally be very somber. Before, I would have said "absolutely not", Verhoeven has changed that answer to "maybe", and in doing so he's made another movie that's one of my guilty pleasures, made all the more disturbing by the fact that it's been so critically well-received (75% on the tomatometer) that I wonder if my question has already been answered "hell yes" by the rest of the world.

In any case, I sort of hope it's nominated for best foreign picture, and that it wins. Just so we can actually use the phrase, "The Oscar-winning director of 'Showgirls'...."


Erk Schmerk said...

You know, I'm the absolute last person who should be posting on a site about movies. I mean really, how many movies do I watch a year? Four?

Eh, but I really enjoy this. It's like reading summaries of books. Thanks for the output - brings up interesting concepts.

Now, if I could just get time (and desire, and motivation), maybe I'd watch something? Ah, yes - Pan's Labyrinth is scheduled for this week!

Brian Darr said...

Love your summation of Verhoeven's perversions. Except I fall into that strange camp of people who actually thinks Showgirls is a good movie. I'm also reminded that I need to see the Black Book before it disappears from theatres.

But don't hold your breath on a Foreign Language film Oscar nomination for this film. It was already submitted by the Netherlands for last year's Oscars, which makes it ineligible in that category next time around. Since it wasn't a nominee, though, it'll be eligible for Oscars in other categories next year if Sony decides to submit the correct paperwork on it. Like how City of God was rejected by the foreign-language nominators one year, but then picked up a few nominations in other categories the next.

puppymeat said...

Thanks brian,

I had thought that maybe it was already nominated last year, but in my rush to write it up, I didn't check my facts. Still, here's hoping it gets some nominations, especially Best Actress.