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Black Book - Paul Verhoeven interview

Controversial filmmaker Paul Verhoeven is going back to his roots with his first Dutch film for over 20 years. Miles Fielder catches up with him.


Dutch master

Two decades after he left Holland for Hollywood’s dream factory, Paul Verhoeven has gone home to make his first Dutch film in 24 years. Having established himself as a critically and commercially successful maverick talent in Tinseltown with blockbusters such as Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers, the 68-year-old has returned to his filmmaking roots with Black Book, a racy but intelligent thriller about Nazi resistance and collaboration in wartime Holland that recalls one of his most celebrated pre-Hollywood films, Soldier of Orange. It is a homecoming in more ways than one.

‘I had become a film director because I thought I could express something in an artful way,’ he says. ‘But that became more difficult in the last few years in the US. After doing Hollow Man I promised myself I would only take on a movie that I cared about. So I had to come back and do something that I believed in again.

‘I’ve also returned to the roots of my childhood,’ says Verhoeven. ‘I was seven when the war ended and I have very strong memories about it . . . It was a horrible time. But the fascination with the war as a child was also a very strong aspect. The launching pads of the V2s were about one mile from my house, so I could see these enormous rockets going over my head, which were the most spectacular special effects ever.’

Although Black Book combines the breakneck pacing of a boy’s own adventure with lashings of Verhoeven’s trademark sex and violence, it is also a provocative interrogation of a shameful period of history in which Dutch collaborators turned over Jews to the Nazis. ‘You would expect that the things that are revealed on the big screen would be hurting for a Dutch audience,’ Verhoeven says, ‘but to my amazement, nothing like that happened. They embraced it. The Dutch seem to accept the movie for what it is and these dark tones are not disturbing them.’

Despite its thrilling chase sequences and shoot-outs and typically outrageous set-pieces, Black Book nevertheless represents a return to realistic filmmaking for Verhoeven. ‘It is a companion piece to Soldier of Orange,’ he says. ‘Coming back from the US I had a strong inclination to be realistic and historically correct.’

Verhoeven’s not going back to America to make another Hollow Man. Instead, he’s staying put in Holland, to adapt the bestselling Dutch novel Kneeling on a Bed of Roses. No chance of a sequel to Showgirls, then.

Black Book is on selected release from Fri 19 Jan.

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