Sunday, April 19, 2009

April Showers, Black Book

Dave from Victim of the Time again here... it seems I shower more at the weekend, for I'm supplying your Sunday night edition of April Showers too. We go from apparently unacceptable ass to... well, you'll see. I must atone for my sins after all.

When Nat posted on Changeling in this series, he gave you five types of "horror showers". We all know Paul Verhoeven's a bit of a nutjob, and in Black Book he can't just settle for one harrowing shower experience. He gives you three at once.

Ellis de Vries (the marvellous Carice van Houten), having spied from within on the Nazis, is now in a prison camp for collaborators, and, as you might expect, they aren't being treated nicely. Ever-resilient Ellis refuses to take off her clothes like the other obeying prisoners- which lands her in trouble with the drunken, angry officers. And beneath the drum full of excrement we've just seen the prisoners adding their bucket-loads to. Crouching on the floor after an aggressive beating, she thinks it's okay to rise... but the foreboding music says otherwise.

So beaten down by the sheer force of what just came from above, a bit like the blood-sodden Carrie, Ellis' face is covered by matted hair. Verhoeven, keen to emphasize the moment, even inserts a bird's eye view of the solitary, chalk-outline-esque posture of Ellis on the floor of the warehouse.

But the guards aren't done with her yet. The busty females on the balcony above gleefully pour their remaining spirits down on her head, barely rinsing the sludge off her.

Yet Ellis' punishment still isn't over with. Here's the familiar hose-down moment, complete with a close-up of the hose itself, and the humiliated Ellis shies from the blast of water even as it wipes the caked brown sludge off her. Her fellow former-spy Akkermans (Thom Hoffman) is here to rescue her, but, as Ellis looks up with as much pride as she can muster, you and she both know it's not quite over yet.

Black Book looks, from the outside, like another big WWII epic (except Dutch), but it strikes me as more Hitchcockian, in its strong, beautiful, deceptive heroine and twisting moralities. I've not explored Verhoeven's oeuvre beyond this and Showgirls- lament the heroine there, too, for fame's a bitch- but this scene, at the very least, is like Tippi Hedren being pecked half-to-death, or Janet Leigh getting chopped, or Marion Lorne getting strangled: she's had sex, she must be punished. Living in the 21st century as we now do, we don't need Ellis to suffer quite so much, and there's as much sympathy here as there is accusation- but this is still one of Black Book's key scenes, clearly a moment Verhoeven wants you to remember, and he probably had as much fun filming it as van Houten had annoyance at cleaning all the stuff off afterwards.



I never thought about that scene as some sort of subtextual kneejerk punishment but if it is I TOTALLY agree that Verhoeven would latch onto that and attempt to up the ante because he's such a provocateur. And you're right that Verhoeven is amplifying it and the birds eye view is a great point.

Janice said...

That birds eye view reminds me very much of the rape scene in Dogville, which ends with a similar shot, pulling up and away from Grace lying on the floor (according to the director's commentary track, it was a stand-in for that particular shot, not Nicole herself, although I don't recall that they explained why the switch.)

Anonymous said...

You should see Soldier of Orange, its Verhoeven's best.

Jason Adams said...

I wouldn't have ever thought of this scene for this series, Dave, but I LOVE that you did. I've actually been meaning to sit down and watch this movie again (for the fourth time I think) lately, it's so freaking great. Carice! Ahh! Man I just love her here. Such a fantastic performance. And Dave, if you want to see Verhoeven really channeling Hitch you should check out The Fourth Man. Brilliant. I am such a whore for Verhoeven though.


The Fourth Man absolutely freaked me out.

But my favorite Verhoeven will always be Showgirls.

Anonymous said...

Ah, The Fourth Man, even here in The Netherlands it isn't that well known, most definitely Verhoeven's little gem.

Ian said...

Black Book is one of my favorite films of recent years.