The latest film from Dutch master Paul Verhoeven is a two-sided coin: it draws heavily on the technical skills he honed to create his Hollywood blockbusters like Robocop and Basic Instinct, while telling an intimate story of loss and survival in World War II Holland. Black Book focuses on Rachel, a young Jewish woman (Carice van Houten) who loses everything in the carnage of the war and eventually finds that the only safe place for her is in a resistance movement that is actively thwarting Nazi plans to deport Jews from their homes in Holland to certain death. In typical Verhoeven style, the film deals squarely with the brutal, ugly side of human nature and shocks as much as it entertains. Group think, prejudice, tragic decision-making and the raw, persuasive power of sex -- all Verhoeven staples -- get some fresh interpretations here, as Rachel faces death around every corner and unwittingly steps closer and closer to a nasty secret.
Verhoeven, van Houten and co-star Sebastian Koch were on hand to take part in this week's Black Book roundtables in Manhattan. 69-year-old Verhoeven, amped-up as much as a human being can get, knocked over tape recorders and spoke a mile-a-minute almost without interruption as he talked up the film. Van Houten was more the soft-spoken ingenue, answering all questions quietly and politely. Here is a sampling of questions and answers from the event:
Cinematical: Two projects -- Azazel and the Robocop remake -- what are the status of those projects? "I don't know anything about the Robocop remake. Many times discussed, but no script, as far as I know, is there. You know, I'm not a big fan of sequels. I've been able to avoid them all, which was not easy with Basic Instinct. Total Recall became Minority Report -- the sequel to Total Recall was based on the same story. It was Total Recall 2, called The Minority Report. Then somehow, Carolco, the company, went bankrupt, as you know, or Chapter 11, and disappeared, and the project floated slowly through Jan de Bont, my former DP and now director/producer, then it came to the hands of Spielberg and he made an independent movie out of that.
I hope I can start shooting Azazel in July. Nobody other than Milla Jovovich is attached. It's a detective story based on a Russian novel that was published in the United States about three years ago, in English, under the title Winter Queen. The real title, the Russian title, is Azazel, which we use now because I think it's more intriguing. Azazel is in fact a Jewish demon and also a scapegoat. And basically, the scapegoat turns into a demon or the other way around, I forgot that. It's a detective story situated in St. Petersburg and in London, around 1876. So its about 130, 140 years ago. It's very modern in its narrative; it's kind of charming, but it's also very deadly. Its about suicides, its about murders, its about terrorism, and global conspiracy. In one book!"