It was a while that I watched a classic & one centered on war. I like to watch movies not because they are of a specific genre but because of the story line or performances. While surfing, I chanced upon this movie on a Television channel.
I did not know the actress and at first could not understand the language. But what captured my attention was the beauty & composure of the protagonist despite the fact that she was in refuge & staying away from her entire family due to the World War II. Rachael is a Jew, was a singer & wishes to be with her family. She is keen, eager & lovely; qualities that draw men effortlessly towards her.
Just lazying by the river side one fine day with an admirer, bombs start flying around her from planes belonging to Hitler’s army. Both she & her admirer go in hiding but a stranger discovers them. He is Van Gein. Claiming to be secretly helping the Jews, he asks both to come with him if they wish to cross the border & move to a safer place. Rachael decides to go along but before that, meets a lawyer named Smaal, a friend of his father, who could help her with money.
Smaal comes across as a righteous person in the movie & very protective of Rachael. Even though he has a small role; he has portrayed his stand with precision. In one of the best scenes of the movie, Rachael approaches Smaal saying that her father told her to turn to him in case of any need. Smaal’s eyes scrutinize her every move and he asks her to give a proof if she is indeed Rachael. Rachael does so by displaying a family locket. Not for a moment, in the entire scene, Rachael is anxious or scared. Despite being in such an insecure environment, Rachael is trusting of people. Smaal makes this observation clear to her – ‘Do not trust anyone so easily’. This is one lesson she would learn the hard way.
As Rachael & her admirer embark upon their journey in a boat, along with many, she is pleasantly surprised to find in the crowd the rest of her family – her mother, father & brother. She is so happy that for once the viewer is relieved of the tension & feels that now the story would revolve around how she happily got married & again started to sing. She keeps repeating to her family – “From now on, we will ALWAYS stay together!” Alas! Hitler’s soldiers are ready to meet them at the other bank & start an open fire. They kill everybody on the boat & plunder their possessions.
Rachael is shot, but she is saved by Dr. Hans, a self-proclaimed physician & an active member of the ‘Resistance’*, who gives her a false identity. With her hair bleached blonde & a fake passport, she becomes Ellies De Vries & joins the Resistance. Without a family & purpose in life, she takes refuge in work. When Gerben, the leader of the Resistance, asks her if she would like to do some more work, she says flatly – “The more work, the better”. Gerben persists – “Even if it is dangerous”, to which she does not reply, but quickly starts taking off her gloves, indicating she is so ready for all things that could give her life a meaning, even death.
Chance has it that she meets Muntze on a train, an officer of Hitler’s army who is known for his success at curbing the Resistance, and she instantly captivates her with her charms. The members of the Resistance see this as an opportunity to spy on the army’s information & activities. Gerben attempts to re-affirm her pledge to the Resistance by asking – “How far are you willing to go?”, to which Ellies replies “As far as Muntze wants to”.
Thus begins Rachael aka Ellies journey as a spy. A journey filled with lies, murders, traitor ship but above all the innocence of Rachael, her hope to be in a liberated world & her constant strife between her love for Muntze and loyalty for the Resistance.
Several times in the movie one feels that Ellies would be caught, before she finally is! She keeps working for the Resistance, meanwhile letting go of her natural impulses as a woman. She becomes a singer, an entertainer at the Nazi parties. She plants bugs at their offices & gets closer to Muntze, not knowing that both she & Muntze are falling in love with each other.
In wars, no one knows how the final cards will be laid out. And so things change when a sub-ordinate of Muntze (who had ordered to open fire against Rachael’s parents & others in the boat) plays his real cards. He takes both Ellies & Muntze as captive, after succeeding at proving Ellies as a traitor in front of the members of the Resistance & Muntze as a black sheep in front of the army’s seniors. Both Muntze & Ellies are convinced that without a member of the Resistance becoming an agent for the Nazi, this wouldn’t have been possible. Ellies feels maybe Smaal is the traitor for he was the one who had all the information about the Jews residing in the land.
Meanwhile, things change at the political front and the Nazi army agrees to evict the land. Resulting, both Ellies & Muntze are on the run trying somehow to prove their innocence. When they confront Smaal, he says he is not the one but maybe he has figured out who it is & shows Ellies a ‘Black Book’. He claims it has all the facts & his observations but he will only show it to them in front of a senior Official. As they wait for the official, somebody shots Smaal & his wife. Muntze chases the assassin but is caught by the angry mob & brought before the army. Ellies is also held behind bars for her alleged support to the Nazis.
Muntze is executed before a firing squad & Ellies is condemned to much public ire & shame in jail. She is released with help from Dr. Hans of the Resistance, but the ‘Black Book’ is still with her. Because of the book, her life again falls in jeopardy, but she fights to know the truth & himself punishes the guilty. She suffocates the guilty to death by screwing the lid of the coffin, which was filled with precious possessions plundered from the Jews, with her family locket.
The movie is directed well, the screenplay flows, uninterrupted. The plot captivates & all throughout the movie Rachael keeps the viewer engrossed. Her performance is simply beautiful.
I never watch a movie in foreign language even if subtitled because somehow the emotion, the soul of the plot is lost. But ‘Black Book’ was totally different, language was not a barrier to being touched.
*Resistance – A group of people who resisted the Nazis.