Dir: Paul Verhoeven. Neth-Bel-Ger-UK.140mins.

The prodigal son of Dutch cinema comes home from Hollywood with the budget,production values and the epic nonchalance of the American Way packed in his suitcase. Black Book, Paul Verhoeven'sfirst European film for more than 20 years, is not a particularly original pieceof cinema but it is rollicking, big-budget historical entertainment of the sortthat the old continent so rarely gets right these days (the liberatoryapplause that wrapped its press screening in Venice was mainly pride thatEurope can still do this kind of thing). The brash, Hollywood treatment of the DutchWorld War Two Resistance theme sometimes stretches thehistorical record - but then this was never supposed to be a subtle exercise.

Commerically, Black Bookwill be an interesting market test. It features four languages - Dutch, German,English and Hebrew - during its course, so some subtitling will be inevitable inmost territories (dubbing would really kill its case about the fragile identityof the Dutch language in and out of wartime). It's not going to be that straightforward,either, to market a feature that is not quite a committed Holocaust drama, not quitea gung-ho war film and not quite a action-adventure romp: rather this is almosta case of The Pianist meets The Third Man meets Kill Bill.

Recouping its $20m budget willneed wide exposure: not a problem in Europe, where a whole raft of distributors(including Tartan in the UK and Pathe in France) havealready bought Black Book, comforted nodoubt by its muscular auxiliary prospects. It has yet to be sold to the US, although it has been nominated as the Dutch candidatefor the foreign language Oscar, something where the Netherlands has often proved adeptat making it through to the final five.

The action begins in occupiedHolland during thelate summer of 1944. Although the tide of war has started to turn against the Germans,this is little consolation to Jews like Rachel Stein (the ever-watchable Carice Van Houten), who sees her safe house bombed and her family gunneddown while attempting to flee across the border. Rachel herself narrowly escapes,and soon hooks up with a group of Dutch resistance fighters who see her as a usefulpawn for infiltrating German High Command in The Hague.

After dyeing her hair blondeand changing her name to Ellis De Vries, Rachel becomesthe secretary and lover of Muntze (Sebastian Koch), aNazi-with-a-conscience who is attempting to negotiate a secret truce with the Resistance.But when Rachel is double-crossed and accused of treachery, she is forced to goon the run from her former comrades-in-arms.

Plot switchbacks and reversalsabound, and the whole thing moves along at a cracking pace. There's a breezy brioto the exercise, refreshing in a film that touches on such dark themes; in Black Book, Verhoevencomes on like a contemporary David Lean, though the film lacks the final emotionalpunch of, say, Doctor Zhivago.In fact, Verhoeven and his co-writer Gerard Soeteman (who also wrote Verhoeven'slast World War Two film, Soldier Of Orange)are anxious to assure us that the heroine will come out of all this just fine:the first of the film's bookends shows Rachel happily works on a kibbutz ten yearsafter the end of the conflict.

The director clearly has an axeto grind with the more extreme elements of Dutch Protestant culture; the criticismis at its most strident in a lurid, gratuitously nasty scene near the end involvingRachel and a group of other prisoners accused of collaborating with the Nazis.

But overall Verhoeven's direction is assured - and it's backed up by animpressive range of technical contributions, from Independence Day cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub'sepic widescreen photography - enhanced by lighting that verges on the theatrical- to the crisp period costumes and production design.

The acting from the pan-Europeancast is solid throughout, but it's Carice Van Houten whoreally compels the camera's, and the audience's, attention,with her ebullient account of a resourceful, fun-loving girl in a dark hour.

Production companies/backers
Fu Works
VIP Mediafonds
Egoli Tossell Film
Clockwork Pictures
Motel Films
Studio Babelsberg
Motion Picture Investment Group
VIP Medienfonds 4

International sales
ContentFilm International
Dutch distribution
A-Film Distribution

Executive producers
Andreas Grosch
Andrea Schmid
Marcus Schoefer
Henning Molfenter
Carl Woebcken
Jamie Carmichael
Graham Begg
Sarah Giles

San Fu Maltha
Jens Meurer
Teun Hilte
Jos van der Linden
Frans van Gestel
Jeroen Beker

Paul Verhoeven
Gerard Soeteman

Karl Walter Lintenlaub

Production design
Wilbert van Dorp

Job ter Burg
James Herbert

Anne Dudley

Main cast
Carice van Houten
Sebastian Koch
Thom Hoffman
Halina Reijn
Waldemar Kobus
Derek de Lint