FF50 - Black Book

Intro by Adam Pranica

What do you think of when you think of the Dutch? Of course there is the tulip, the windmill, there is the Michael Caine character in the third Austin Powers movie who hates them, there is the wooden shoes which aren't called Sebo no matter how often I write that in the intro for it to be deleted later by Ben, there is also their stoicism and their height, I guess that's it. Oh right: There is also a sense of permissiveness, isn't there? Here is a society with legal marijuana and pragmatic views on criminalizing other drugs, a place where sex work and sex workers are regulated and healthy. Speaking of sex work: I bet you are wondering: Why in the hell is the Rickles of Friendly Fire doing the beloved intro to the show? What happened to the Father Time-looking guy who hates all the movies? Well, I'll tell you: Like all great journalists, he is on assignment.

But back to the Dutch: To visit this part of the world is to know what it's like for a country to treat you like an adult, and from this societal and cultural cradle sprang Paul Verhoeven, a filmmaker with a mathematics and physics degree and a creator with a, how do you say, ah yes: reputation. For a while he dabbled in Dutch television and then parlayed that into a couple of Dutch features, one of which, Turkish Delight, was awarded ”Best Dutch film of the century” status. So: His talent was recognized, but he had yet to create the oeuvre we know him for today: The Paul Verhoeuvre, if you will!

So: Verhoeven comes to America and it isn't long before he pivots into being a provocateur, whether he is blowing up boardrooms in RoboCup, un-crossing legs in Basic Instinct, or bringing Elizabeth Berkley to an aquatic orgasm that Kevin Costner could only dream of giving Jeanne Tripplehorn in Waterworld. It is a body of work that is enough to get a film-going audience so excited and so scared all at once. But like any artist who achieves great commercial success early, Paul Verhoeven also wanted to make something important. So he returned to his native homeland, got to work on a film that told his country’s side of the World War II story.

Rachel, played by John's personal internet friend Carice van Houten, is a young Jewish woman in the Netherlands who becomes a spy for the Dutch resistance after watching Nazis rob and kill a bunch of her friends and family. So: She's got to go undercover to infiltrate the Nazi ranks and the only way to do that is to dye her pubic hair blonde, because: Verhoeven! Anyway, the newly disguised Rachel is a Briel tactical asset. She is an intoxicating combination of cunning and lead singer charisma, sort of the way John imagines himself when he is daydreaming about the music career he used to have.

Rachel uses these powers to seduce and manipulate Hauptsturmführer Ludwig Müntze so she can get close to the deputy who ordered her family's murder, Obersturmführer Günther Franken, but the conflict isn't symmetrical and the decisions made by characters within the agency aren't grounded in any kind of moral relativism. Nothing is black and white, especially Rachel's pubes, and Rachel is both aided and harmed by forces purporting to be on her side, including most disturbingly those that seek to undermine the mission of the resistance for their own personal and financial gain: There's the communists, the religious pacifists, the resistance doctor that winds up being a total creep, there's the lawyer who tried to help her family escape to Belgium, there's also the Nazis she's just a tiny bit attracted to when she's undercover as his non-Jewish secretary/lover. Good thing the bad guys have been keeping records! You knew there'd be a black book in here somewhere, didn't you?

By the end the story descends into a cruel wreath of Mobius Strips that isolates our beloved Rachel and places her in the greatest harm from both the Nazis who were chasing her and the Dutch resistance who believes her to be a turncoat. Also we see Rachel's love interest executed before she gets a literal barrel of shit dumped on her in prison, which is why John has a new Google search tab open for ”Scheissenprison”. In the end Rachel is sprung from prison by Akkermans, a guy she trusted the whole time, who then reveals himself to be maybe the worst character in a film full of actual Nazis. So it is with great satisfaction that we listen to him suffocate, leaving Rachel to contemplate her new life ahead, which will be fully funded by the money she has stolen from Akkermans who stole it from Franken, who stole it from his many Jewish victims like Rachel's murdered friends and family. Again with the moral relativism!

In the final scenes we see a glimpse of Rachel's new life within the walls of a kibbutz she funded with all that stolen money, which is now under attack at the beginning of what would become the Suez Crisis, and we understand once and for all at this point that Rachel's story will never have a happy ending. How far would you go? On today's Friendly Fire we discuss the 2006 Paul Verhoeven-directed Black Book.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License