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Spotlight on...Director Paul Verhoeven

15th January, 2013

What do you expect from War films? Lots of action, battle scenes, valiant heroes and despicable villains? Not so in Black Book from Dutch director Paul Verhoeven - here's what out films team have to say:

Black BookBlack Book (15, 16+)

Duration: 145mins
Year: 2006
Director (s): Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Sebastian KochThom HoffmanCarice Van HoutenDerek de LintHalina Reijn

World War II continues to inspire film-makers, and Black Book one of the more recent movies to draw upon the horrors of that time. Set in Nazi-occupied Holland, it follows a Jewish woman who is recruited into the resistance and becomes a spy. The role played by women in the war effort is often ignored, so the depiction of a brave and resourceful heroine is particularly refreshing. Paul Verhoeven's film also successfully avoids many of the other stereotypes we've come to expect of war movies, with the heroes and villains of his tale not as clear cut as you might expect. With English subtitles.

Related films: Flame & Citron, The Counterfeiters, Female Agents, Sophie Scholl, Schindler's List

FILMCLUB member David, 16, certainly got a lot out of the film, saying:

"Based on true events, the film demonstrates a fantastic yet horrific interpretation of the war, which although to an extent is fictional, is very accurate. This emotional film is fantastic...the film can be thoroughly enjoyed and I recommend this for those who love history"

About Paul Verhoeven

Like many European directors, Paul Verhoeven's early films won him the attention of Hollywood in the mid-80s, and indeed he is best known for his action packed films from that era - think the recently remade Total Recall or RoboCop!

In fact, it's not entirely surprising that Verhoeven has made his name in the science-fiction genre, given he graduated from university with a degree in maths and physics! His film career began however when he was in the Dutch Navy, where he made documentaries before moving into television.

Over the past few years Verhoeven has reverted to his Dutch roots, making films in his own language and outside of Hollywood. One thing's for sure, Verhoeven's films combine a luscious visual style with epic drama to great effect, and he's not showing any signs of stopping just yet!

More films from The Low Countries

Want to find out more about Dutch cinema's take on World War Two? Read this fantastic article our films team put together, maybe it will inspire you to explore them further in your film clubs?

"There have been plenty of World War 2 epics made in Europe in recent years, but only a handful have been made in Holland. 

Winter in Wartime takes a very gentle, introductory look at the daily effects of war. In fact, the ideology of war takes a back seat as director Martin Koolhoven instead explores the winter of 1944 in a Boy's Own adventure yarn.

We see the day-to-day interaction between German invaders and isolated Dutch residents in a rural town through the eyes of 14-year-old Michiel. Desperate to join the Resistance, he starts to poke around and, before long, discovers an injured British airman stranded in a wood on the edge of the town. Michiel must sneak past the Germans and traverse the snow-packed countryside to get food and medicine to the fugitive. 

A more high-profile take on a similar theme is Paul Verhoeven's Black Book. Escaping a trap that kills her family outright, Dutch Jewess Rachel Stein turns to the Resistance and goes undercover as the mistress of an SS commander. Verhoeven was inspired by his own experiences of growing up under Nazi occupation and he attempts to retell the story from a slightly unusual angle: Black Book refuses to create a clear line of morality, instead making the Nazis not just evil but also cheerful and the Resistance not just worthy but also corrupt.

A classic Low Countries film - this time from Belgium - is the superbly offbeat Toto the Hero. An elderly Thomas looks back on his life with anger: he has dreamed of seeking revenge ever since convincing himself that he was exchanged with Alfred, the kid next door, at birth. It's a magical, vibrant and inventive trip through a life that is no less real for being imagined and made-up.  

If Jaco Van Dormael's Toto put Belgium on the cinematic map in the early 90s, then Nic Balthazar's Ben X reminded film fans across the world that this small country has a lot to say. Selected as Belgium's foreign-language Oscar entry in 2008, Ben X is the simple but harrowing tale of a young autistic boy who is severely bullied. 

However, it is still the Dardenne brothers who remain Belgium's leading moviemakers. The Silence of Lorna, which was released in 2008, tells the story of the eponymous Lorna, a melancholic Albanian working in a laundry in Liege. To gain Belgian citizenship, she agrees to marry a junkie; gangsters then kill him so she might provide citizenship for a Russian mafioso. When she starts to question the morality of her behaviour, plans go horribly wrong."

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