Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Best Lead Performance (Female), 2007

Carice Van Houten, Black Book (79 points/11 votes)

"Early on in Black Book, the young Jewish cabaret singer Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) is being hidden from the Nazis by a Dutch family, the patriarch of which insists she memorize Christian scripture for her supper. Later, when that Dutch house has been destroyed, she survives a brutal attack while trying to escape the country and aligns herself with the resistance, using her impish sexuality to infiltrate the defenses of a Nazi colonel and ending up with a job inside Gestapo headquarters. Stein, who now calls herself Ellis de Vries, plays with the sympathies of her Nazi lover, and is herself seduced by his paradoxical sensitivity, which seems a strange comfort in contrast to the often harsh methods of the Resistance to which she is aligned. Van Houten’s brilliant, feather-light touch is similarly at odds with the apparent weight of the situation in which her character finds herself mired. At once a perfect embodiment of the kind of perversely powerful sexuality that is an earmark of a Paul Verhoeven film, the surface pleasures of van Houten’s presence mask deep shades of despair and doubt with which she expertly infuses her character. She knows the ice on which Rachel/Ellis skates is deadly thin, and that the woman must keep her own heart from breaking or collapsing altogether in order to survive.

"But van Houten also allows us to understand the sympathies that allow Ellis’s libido to take over and express emotions and motivations which might in other circumstances lead to a quick death. The singer uses her porcelain beauty and shimmering eyes as brilliant reflectors—the sympathetic Nazi colonel, who shows her his stamp collection like a boy in love, sees what he wants to see, especially about himself, in those eyes. And Carice van Houten seduces the audience with them in the same way-- the shadows floating through her gaze are never entirely hidden. She blooms inside what could have been a simple conceit of flippant sexuality, infusing the act of flashing her gams while riding on a motorcycle past marching German soldiers with touching humanity and barely hidden desperation. It’s a performance of rare delicacy that invites us to shudder with dread at the gamesmanship with which she engages her enemies, all the while encouraging us to register the humor that laces the dead seriousness which marks her every move. In Black Book, Carice van Houten finds the heart beating inside the hunted, and shows us the conflicted soul of a woman who may never rest in peace." ~ Dennis Cozzalio

Ellen Page, Juno (63/11)
Nicole Kidman, Margot at the Wedding (50/7)
Julie Christie, Away From Her (39/6)
Laura Linney, The Savages (38/7)

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1 comment:

Ali Arikan said...

This is one of those bizarre performances. It's absolutely wonderful, and van Houten sells every inch of ambiguous conflict - even at the end of the film when she is supposed to have found some final peace.

Nonetheless, I found the actual film so trivial, so simplistic, and so bizarrely, inappropriately, light-hearted that even van Houten's grand performance couldn't drag me back in. I found my appreciation of her work more academic than emotional, which is what I prefer to base my judgment on when it comes to art. Put her in a good movie, and I am sure she will work wonders.

Oh, and not for nothing, she’s fricking HOT. Here I go again with my gonads…