Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Black Book (Paul Verhoeven, 2007)

When I finally get my act together and make my best of 2007 list (this weekend!), Paul Verhoeven's Black Book will certainly be on there. It's marvellously photographed and epic in scope, but the best part, above all, is the performance of Carice van Houten in the role of Ellis (formerly Rachel), the Dutch Resistance fighter during World War II whose task it is to seduce a member of the gestapo, in order to learn the Nazi's secrets. van Houten as Ellis is smart, wily, brave, and incredibly sexy, in an almost every day kind of way. She's a woman you want to be; when she flashes her legs at the Dutch soldiers near the beginning of the film, it's one of the most endearing gestures in recent film mystery.

Rachel is hiding in the Dutch countryside from the Nazi occupation, but when she gets a chance to escape with her family, they all take it. There are terrible consequences, and brunette, Jewish Rachel has to become blonde Ellis to hide herself in plain sight. She falls in with the Dutch resistance, and agrees to seduce Ludwig Muntze, Nazi officer. She does so, with ease, and soon gets closer and closer to Muntze, as well as to Hans, another member of the Resistance. van Houten fills Ellis with life, with relatable, though paradoxical, emotions and decisions, and makes her one of the most memorable characters in 2007 film.

One thing I did notice, however, was the nagging similarities to Lust, Caution. Both films star beautiful, talented women, have these protagonists fall in love with questionable men on the other side of morality, and have graphic but not exploitative sex scenes. Ang Lee's film is based on sexual tension, but Verhoeven's tension explodes rather quickly (no pun intended) and then the rest of the film explores the results of the sexual and emotional connections. How strange that two high-profile sexy espionage epics came out in 2007, but they're both great movies.

Verhoeven did a remarkable thing in this movie: made a sexual, fierce, amazing female protagonist who certainly has flaws but is still remarkable and believable, and van Houten does a near-perfect job playing her. In a year that's been riddled with dubious portrayals of women, van Houten's is a performance that is being sadly ignored in this awards season.


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