Not a scary movie

Paul Verhoeven's latest film to date recounts the adventures of an adventuress in heroic circumstances. And is itself a kind of adventure, because of the choice of material. It is about the unfortunate past, the Holocaust in particular, which is a collective trauma (and a personal one as well, given the facts of Verhoeven's own biography as an early child survivor of the occupation). Criticism of the choice of subject matter is inevitable. Many people will obviously find it difficult to accept the fact that this background is not heroized, mythologized or made the ground for a "serious statement," but remains just a background in an entertaining, entertaining movie. When a filmmaker, to the detriment of relevance, takes on the past, even the recent past, the question arises: how will he apply this material? Will he use texture, making his visuals more decorative, i.e. will he cream off all the possibilities of "costume cinematography," and that is all? Or will he use the historical background for allegorical purposes, with edifying parallels between the past and the present, and thereby signify his attitude toward that present? None of this seems to be present in Verhoeven. One can therefore imagine here very specific goals, not even goals, but rather hidden causes. Which probably exist, because the idea of the film was not just something that the director had wrestled with, he had wanted to make a film within this theme for many years, since his move from Holland to Hollywood.
Eventual background of the "Black Book" is one-dimensional, so that to burden it with interpretations is unnecessary - it can only be retold, and then in a nutshell, as a fairy tale about the colobok, which "left his grandfather and left his grandmother. The Jewish girl Rachel Stein loses her whole family while trying to escape from occupied Holland to the free zone, escapes imminent death, joins the Resistance and becomes a spy for the Dutch patriots behind enemy lines. And in what is the most alcove rear, as Mata Hari. As the mistress of a German officer, Muntze, she supplies the Resistance with information, unaware that a stranger has strayed from her circle. The traitor uncovers her, but Rachel gets away with it again. She then falls recklessly in love with Muntze. But Muenze perishes when the Allied forces liberate Holland, but Rachel discovers the traitor. And so on... The events, despite their apparent heterogeneity, can be reduced to a single line: the cause of survival. And this is Verhoeven's underlying theme. It is present (and drives the plot) in most of his films from "Soldier of the Queen" and "Flesh and Blood" back in the Dutch period to Hollywood's "Starfleet" and the unfairly box-office failure "Showgirls". That is, "what" the film is about is clear, the choice of a certain historical background is curious in this case. It gives grounds for skepticism: the film may be criticized not for implausibility in details (the historical setting is reproduced meticulously), but for fantastic plot twists: that is not the case. Only a superhero, some kind of Spider-Man, can survive in the proposed circumstances, dancing gait through fire and water. There is even a kind of stylistic contrast between the accuracy of the background and the fantasy of the main line: the texture is realistic, and the plot is fairy-tale. The plot in this case is an obvious fabrication, a "staging." Moreover, it is deliberate.
To clarify what "staging" means in this context, we can turn to Bertolucci's recent film, The Dreamers. It reproduces the 1968 student revolt, the "Red May," which Bertolucci himself coincidentally did not have the opportunity to witness. We know that at the time he was bound by contract and filmed in Italy "Partner" and Pierre Clementi, who participated in the work on the film, was in between shots in Paris and brought from there the latest news. This way, the director, who had only first-hand knowledge of the revolution, probably missed the main event of his life. (The fact that Bertolucci had always been extremely interested in the subject of revolution is evident in his films of those years, one of which is even called Before the Revolution.) And much later, he finally compensated, filled his own memory lacuna by staging this situation in The Dreamers, where the young heroes, the Cinemateca regulars, spend their time locked up in their parents' apartment, solving their pubertal problems while history rages outside. In the final shots of "Dreamers," they do go outside and blend in with the crowd, becoming part of the Event. And only cinema has the ability to replicate the Event, including for those who have missed out, strange as it may sound. Cinema reproduces the matter of memory and, in addition, is capable of correcting it. And staging, perhaps, represents something more than mere pampering and amusement. It is a kind of psychoanalytic session, a return of lost hope and harmony. As if reality were deliberately mythologized in a life-affirming way: for example, if the movie Chapaev in the Vasiliev Brothers' film had not drowned. Only filmmakers have the power to replicate war and revolution, and there is a reason for that. Here one might recall the commonplace of film studies, Krakauer's assertion that expressionism embodies the fears and aspirations of an entire generation caught between the millstones of history, that cinema is a projection of the collective unconscious. What, then, are the dramatizations of the past with which we are dealing in the case of both Dreamers and Verhoeven? Both films are deliberately and accentuatedly implausible: we can note both the failure of Bertolucci's overly glamorous model actors with "today's" faces in the material, and the "magic" that every time helps Rachel survive.
Verhoeven's staging comes down to revisionism in the end. Factual, for starters. First, the Nazi officer Muenze suddenly turns out to be a decent man who opposes shootings. This idea is even more difficult to digest than the "Night Porter" facet, where the concentration camp victim loved the executioner. Conversely, the victorious patriots behave worse than the Nazis: they line up "collaborators" like Rachel, undress them (we also saw such a scene in "The Night Porter"), and throw shit on them. But Verhoeven's revisionism is not limited to a reassessment of roles.
The Black Book seems to be a therapeutic project, an assertion that continuous movement is the only thing that can counter the terrible conditions of the task. Here one may recall a scene from Melville's film "Army of Shadows. The captured members of the Resistance are forced to run under machine-gun bursts to the wall: if you make it alive, you will be saved. In the finale, Lino Ventura's character refuses to play these games and demonstrates his uncompromising attitude: he remains standing and dies. Verhoeven, as usual, contradicts the conventional wisdom, which states that to survive and not turn into a villain is possible only by relying on certain principles, "universal human values. In the format of an entertaining movie he dares to say that the only way to survive is not resistance, but on the contrary, flexibility, the ability to mimic, to adapt to circumstances, to escape. One should not look for support in one's beliefs, but listen to what one's instinct suggests. Only instinct and intuition can make sense of the situation and distinguish between friend and foe (it helps Rachel and trust Muenze and identify the traitor). Moreover, in moral terms, there is nothing to accuse Rachel: she does not betray anyone. And Verhoeven bends his line, shifting the emphasis to the theme of survival.
And, finally, the most important thing. If the rules of the game leave no chance of winning, one must simply transgress beyond them. An obvious example of such transgression is the holocaust comedies ("Life is Beautiful"). That is, the trauma-healing conversation about the terrible in a seemingly inappropriate spirit, begun as early as Chaplin in "The Great Dictator" and continued by Lubitsch in "To Be or Not to Be." With Verhoeven, it is not a comedy, but an adventurous film on a subject within which only a serious statement would seem possible. Any rebuke of implausibility directed at the film makes no sense, because in this implausibility lies its core message. Rachel fantastically wins where it is impossible to win, because otherwise it would be very scary. And it is scary to remember in the first place. The film is preceded by the standard caption "Based on true events," and this is important: the director insists that the conditions of the problem are the same, everything is true. And the outcome is different. Verhoeven stages reality in order to change the pluses in it into minuses, all other things being equal. It is a form of therapy, allowing the imagination to eradicate the trauma of the past. Hence the choice of historical background. The expression "Time heals" means to wait it out, but does not necessarily mean that one can limit oneself to that. The trauma needs to be dealt with. So Verhoeven works. And the time gap is the necessary space for such work. The cinematic gap between past and present - analogous to the potential difference in physics that produces electricity - creates the necessary tension to change the matter of memory. Cinema has the uncanny ability to transform that memory, to soften and redefine it. That is, ultimately, to change information about the past - for the future.
Made on