An ir­re­sistible re­sis­tance thriller

Ger­ald Aaron is spell­bound by a tale of Jewish sur­vival in wartime Hol­land and im­pressed by a Golden Globe win­ner

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

Black Book (15)

Paul Ver­ho­even, back in his na­tive Hol­land, pro­pels this fast-paced, in­tri­cately plot­ted, con­sis­tently com­pelling wartime thriller at a rous­ing pace. The spell­bind­ing story, cen­tred on a young Ger­man-Jewish wo­man seek­ing re­venge for the be­trayal and sub­se­quent mur­der of her par­ents by the Nazis in oc­cu­pied Hol­land in 1944, never re­laxes its grip. It cun­ningly sub­verts genre clichés, fea­tures sus­pense wor­thy of Hitch­cock, and the ac­tion se­quences are stir­ring.

Re­sult? A mas­terly thriller that re­ally thrills and also suc­ceeds in ex­pos­ing the bru­tal­ity of the Nazis. And within the con­text of an ex­cit­ing ad­ven­ture, it makes dis­turbingly po­tent points about the ran­cid na­ture of an­tisemitism.

The Dutch Re­sis­tance is cen­tral to the nar­ra­tive: chill­ingly (as por­trayed by Ver­ho­even and co-writer Ger­ard Soete­man) some Re­sis­tance mem­bers ap­pear to be as anti-Jewish as the oc­cu­py­ing Ger­mans. At the start of the film, when “hero­ine” Rachel Rosen­thal (Carice van Houten) is hid­ing out with an un­yield­ing Chris­tian farm­ing fam­ily, she is told: “If the Jews had lis­tened to Je­sus, they wouldn’t be in this mess now.”

Af­ter her rural sanc­tu­ary i s bombed, Rachel is re­united with her fam­ily only to see them killed by the SS dur­ing an es­cape at­tempt or­gan­ised by Re­sis­tance worker Van Gein (Peter Blok). Rachel sur­vives the mas­sacre, goes blonde and agrees to bed Gestapo chief Muentze (Se­bas­tian Koch) so that the Re­sis­tance can in­fil­trate SS head­quar­ters. Af­ter more in­ge­nious twists, Rachel is en­meshed in treach­er­ous dou­ble- and tre­ble-crosses and con­tin­u­ous dan­ger which does not end when the Al­lies lib­er­ate Hol­land.

Im­pres­sive pe­riod de­tail adds dra­matic power, Ver­ho­even’s as­sured grasp of his com­plex ma­te­rial never fal­ters, his char­ac­ters are com­plex and cred­i­bly flawed, his pac­ing and stag­ing are flaw­less. Van Houten’s ex­tra­or­di­nary per­for­mance is the cen­tre­piece in a pow­er­ful, mes­meris­ing movie. Ba­bel (15)

Ba­bel’s Golden Globe for Best Drama is en­tirely jus­ti­fied. Di­rec­tor Ale­jan­dro Gon­za­lez Inar­ritu and screen­writer Guillermo Ar­riaga de­liver a stun­ning drama whose four nar­ra­tive strands — two set in Morocco, one in Tokyo and an­other largely in Mex­ico — fea­tur­ing fas­ci­nat­ingly dis­parate char­ac­ters who turn out to be pow­er­fully and craftily linked.

Un­like the over­rated Crash, Ba­bel’s dis­sim­i­lar char­ac­ters gen­uinely con­vince. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as an Amer­i­can cou­ple over­taken by tragedy in North Africa and Gael Gar­cia Ber­nal as a feck­less Mex­i­can are ex­cel­lent, as are all the per­for­mances. A true ensem­ble drama. In­fa­mous (15)

Last year, Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man won the Os­car play­ing Tru­man Capote in the saga of the ac­claimed book, In Cold Blood. Writer-di­rec­tor Douglas McGrath dif­fer­ently and very en­ter­tain­ingly cov­ers much the same ground in In­fa­mous with Bri­tish ac­tor Toby Jones as Capote.

Jones is camp, funny and al­ways be­liev­able with a su­perb por­trayal. He ef­fort­lessly holds cen­tre screen against a strong sup­port­ing cast that in­cludes San­dra Bul­lock, Sigour­ney Weaver, Jeff Daniels and Gwyneth Pal­trow. Rocky Bal­boa (12A)

Once upon a time (well, 30 years ago) un­known ac­tor Sylvester Stal­lone wrote the screen­play and hit the jack­pot, play­ing an as­pir­ing prize­fighter who makes it big.

That film, Rocky, won the Best Pic­ture Os­car and cre­ated a char­ac­ter so re­silient that Stal­lone was able to re­turn to him in se­quel af­ter se­quel. Now the 60-year-old star, dou­bling as screen­writer and di­rec­tor, reck­lessly re­vives his Ital­ian Stal­lion in a fairy­tale fa­ble pit­ting past-it Rocky against the cur­rent heavy­weight cham­pion in a match in Las Ve­gas.

The cli­mac­tic bout is patently against the odds. Amaz­ingly, Stal­lone’s schmaltz-sod­den saga also suc­ceeds against the odds. You may not be­lieve a frame of it, but it is none­the­less highly en­joy­able on its own sim­plis­tic terms.

Carice Van Houten and Se­bas­tian Koch in Paul Ver­ho­even’s ex­cep­tional Dutch wartime drama, Black Book

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