- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

In Paul Verhoeven’s latest film, “Black Book” (“Zwartboek” in the original Dutch), almost no character is wholly good or evil, from the Nazi officers occupying Holland to the members of the Dutch Resistance attacking them.

“Is that not what life is about?” asks the director, speaking by telephone from Los Angeles. “I think it’s more real this way than the black and white portrayals we see in American movies, where people are just good or bad. Even good people can do mean things, and mean people can sometimes be generous.”

Of course, Mr. Verhoeven has made his share of American movies. The 68-year-old director was born in Amsterdam and started his career — after earning a doctorate in math and physics — in Holland. His 1973 film “Turkish Delight” was named the best Dutch film of the century by the Netherlands Film Festival in 1999.

He moved to Hollywood, making his first American film in 1985 (“Flesh & Blood”). He then directed a string of audacious, big-budget flicks: “RoboCop,” “Total Recall” and “Basic Instinct.” He took a critical beating for the infamous “Showgirls” but followed it up with a highly enjoyable satire, “Starship Troopers,” which was mostly misunderstood by the critics.

“If you make it more clear, then you have messages in your movie, and I always feel that’s wrong,” he says of “Troopers.” “I don’t want to push things down people’s throats.”

“Black Book” is his first Dutch film in 20 years. It may feature a European take on character, but it has plenty of the trademark sex and violence for which Mr. Verhoeven’s American films are known. He says it’s just another example of hewing close to reality.

“Life is full of violence. It would be really a cheat to show 1944 and 1945 without an abundance of violence,” he argues. “Sexuality has been treated in my movies always in an open way. I attach a lot of importance to sexuality because we are all biological animals.”

“Black Book” is an honest tale in other ways. Mr. Verhoeven and his co-writer, Gerard Soeteman, based the script on real stories from Holland under Nazi occupation.

“Without trying to make this into a general statement, we wanted to at least point out that in the last year of the war — and this was based on historical research, not something we invented — several people in the Resistance secretly collaborated with the Germans because of money and other things,” he says. “The historical research showed the so-called heroism of the Resistance was probably not so heroic.”

His film is similar to the highly acclaimed German film “The Lives of Others” in that it rethinks a period many of his countrymen might like to forget.

Mr. Verhoeven says young academics in Germany, France and Holland have been more willing than their elders to “look at the reality of these days, whether the situation of the Stasi in Germany or the occupation of Germans in Holland.”

Holland, he says, has “embraced” the film, but the country might not have if not for the academic groundwork, he says.

“By now, it’s well known that in Holland, most Jewish people were sent to Poland. And the Dutch let them go,” he says.

Mr. Verhoeven was just 7 when the war ended, but he remembers it well. In 1943, his family moved to the Hague, where the Germans had their headquarters.

“The Allies were bombing every day. The V-1s and V-2s were one mile from our house,” he recalls. “When someone of the Dutch Resistance killed a German officer, the Germans would retaliate by taking 20 political prisoners, take them out on the street and kill them.” Mr. Verhoeven saw such things at close range.

“I remember an enormous amount of details and images, fire and burning and dead people and bombings and explosions,” he says. “As a child, that makes an enormous impression. It feels like super special effects in some way … You see things in a strange way as a kid.”

It’s hard not to recall the special effects-laden films Mr. Verhoeven has directed in this country. But he’s heading back to Europe — London and St. Petersburg — for his next film, an adaptation or Boris Akunin’s “The Winter Queen.” Mr. Verhoeven notes that it starts with suicide, moving to murder, terrorism and conspiracy. However, this is a work of fiction. Perhaps that’s why the director says it will have a “lighter tone than ‘Black Book.’ ”

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