05 October 2008

Black Book

I had heard good things about this movie, and I was kind of curious to see what Paul Verhoeven, known for directing such phenomenal films as Total Recall (one of my favorites) and Basic Instinct, would do with a, shall we say, weightier topic. In fact, the result was almost exactly what one might expect - a fast paced thriller set in World War Two. The thing is though, it's somewhat problematic (to me at least) to use the position of Jews in the 1940s as fodder for your action porn.

Allow me to explain. The movie centers around an extremely attractive Jewish woman who is in hiding, then joins the Resistance, and ultimately infiltrates the Gestapo as the head boss' lover. In some ways, actually, it's not unlike Ang Lee's wonderful film, Lust, Caution. Both are lush, tense films, with lots of tension and very hot sex scenes. But while Lee's film is erotically charged, the sex scenes never lose their somewhat disturbing edge. Verhoeven's, on the other hand, are purely for the purpose of titillation. They're there to get you hot, and the risk factor is supposed to add, not detract, from that. Same goes for the violence and degradation of the movie - it's upsetting, sure, but there's a sense of relish behind it (a la Thomas Hardy) that is really kind of gross. It's gratuitous. It's not meant to illustrate or heighten the moral aspect, it's meant to excite. So you see the main character get put into all these situations where there's an awful lot of pressure on her to have sex with someone, and she does, and hey, it's all good because she seems to be enjoying it. The fact that she could just as easily not have been enjoying it is sort of irrelevant. Because, you know, that wouldn't have been nearly as much fun to watch. This way, sure she might seem a little unwilling at first, but she's just being coy. Or at least, that's the feeling that I got from it. It was war porn.

That said, it is a fast-paced and interesting movie, and the lead actress, Carice van Houten, is absolutely phenomenal. I just found it kind of strange to treat the subject matter so instrumentally - and even more irked, now that I think about it, because I bet plenty of people thought it was a profound meditation on the topic. And maybe it was more thoughtful than I'm giving it credit for. I dunno, it just weirded me out at bit. Though one interesting aspect is that the film doesn't end with the end of the war, as most such movies do, but takes the next step of showing the aftermath. This is interesting, because what it shows you is how absolutely horrific some of that aftermath was, how the "good guys" went bad. Not something you see too often. 

So it was a strange sort of movie. Also, how much fun is it to listen to people speaking Dutch? Maybe it's more entertaining if you know German, but I love the way it sounds as a language. It just makes me cheerful, I dunno.

No comments: