black-books.jpgAn annoying trend of current film and television is the set-up. By being aware of the set-up you can nearly always work out who the murderer and the method is in CSI (or at least one of these). The cast iron rule of the set-up is, anything which is given prominence or significance in an establishing scene, will be used later. Hollywood is terrible at this: Tony Scott’s Deja Vu is not so much named for its time-travel plot, as the fact you have seen everything in it more than once (including the plot). It works because it allows the viewer to feel clever, they remember the set-up and often anticipate the action just before it happens.

Paul Verhoeven as a director is as blunt an instrument as he needs to be. And in the excellent Hitchcockesque thriller Black Book (Zwartboek), he is not wearing his subtle trousers. To be fair, Verhoeven probably doesn’t own a pair of subtle trousers, his best films have not so much hidden their messages as moved them so far to the foreground to blind you with them (HELLO STARSHIP TROOPERS!). What Verhoeven brings back from Hollywood is the shape of the current Hollywood blockbuster*, which seems odd being done in Dutch. But this also means that all the set-ups are signposted, from the big (you always find the the secret bad guy that little bit creepy) to the little (the bucket of shit). But Verhoeven has his fun knocking his own countrymen, and resistances in general – and ends the film as playfully as he can with a little dig as Israel. All the time in crisp technicolor he makes this a beauty to look at (especially in digital projection like at the Odeon Covent Garden).

The other thing the film manages to pick out is a hitherto unbelievable but true fact that its a thin line between Richard Burton and Ricky Gervais, and its one occupied by Black Books nice Nazi, Sebastien Koch.


(Hmm, looking again I am not so convinced. Maybe its just that everyone looks the same when they are wearing a Nazi uniform).


Ah yes, that’s it!

*Including being just that little bit too brutal and just that little bit too long.