Monday, February 11, 2008

Odd Holocaust Thriller

The 2006 Dutch film Zwartboek, or The Black Book, directed by Paul Verhoeven, is exciting but disturbing for its amoral plot. The tagline is: "To fight the enemy, she must become one of them," wholly appropriate for a spy movie. As with the best portrayals of human nature, the lines blur between the good guys and the bad. But even given that, the moral faultline never settles. The press was divided on the film in the Netherlands.

The strange depiction of Christians cannot go unnoted. They are, without exception, bigoted and cruel. A Christian resistance fighter will not shoot to save friends, but only when the enemy blasphemes. A family sheltering a young Jewish woman forces her to memorize Gospel verses in order to receive a meal. After the war, a "Christian" mob abuses those who cooperated with the enemy. This is a strange and suspiciously ideological treatment of Christians as violent fundamentalists, given the country's rescue of some 5000 Jews from the Nazis.
More Dutch have been honored by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Israel, as `righteous gentiles' than from any other country" (Survival and Resistance: The Netherlands Under Nazi Assault).
Carice van Houten who plays Rachel is a winning heroine who is quick-witted and able to subdue her natural feelings to take up the task at hand. Sebastian Koch is sympathetic as the German official Ludwig Müntze with a tragic story of his own.

It is no surprise that the Resistance may also be infiltated by spies, and so-called friends may profit from the plight of the Jews. Then too enemies can turn out to be the only true friends. Still, overall the plot is capricious in its contortions as bitter betrayals are counteracted by surprising alliances. No one appears to act from principle, but only for personal motives. In the end, only individual survival and revenge prevail.

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