I’ve been working my way through the first season of Game of Thrones recently, and one thing that really stands out to me is that they only have one way to shoot sex scenes. Sometimes the softcore gloss is appropriate because it’s a scene between a bawdy whore and her amused client, but other times the candle light and billowing curtains is really wrong, because what we’re seeing is tantamount to a rape. They don’t make any effort to differentiate between sex that should be tantalizing and sex that should be repulsive; either way it’s just an excuse to show boobs.
One thing that Black Book does really well is frame it’s sex scenes in a way that balances tension and titillation as it’s called for. Black Book is the true story of a young Jewish woman who is asked by the resistance to worm her way into a Nazi officer’s inner circle so they can spy on him. It is clear from the outset that she might have to sleep with him to get the access that she needs. There’s a marked difference in the tone between the sex scene she shares with a resistance soldier while she’s still a natural brunette and the sex scenes she shares with the officer after she’s become a blonde. And there should be, because the power differential between her and her compatriot is not the same as the power differential between her and this man who could have her killed at any time. While there is nudity in both scenes, the emphasis is more on her anxious eyes in the second, as it should be.
Unfortunately, Black Book dose a much worse job in it’s action scenes, which feel like generic action movie set pieces more than the claustrophobic scenes they should be. For the most part, the movie keeps it’s focus tightly on it’s heroine, and it makes you worry about what the war is doing to her mind and what risks she’s running while she’s trying to do the right thing, but then when it’s time for gunfire it retreats from it’s intensity to attempt a more exhilarating tone. There’s no reason for the movie to suddenly become fun; we shouldn’t be getting a thrill from these people dying, because one thing she discovers as she goes farther undercover is that people are not always what they seem to be, regardless of what uniform they wear.
Still, there aren’t enough fight scenes to undercut the bulk of the movie, which is a lot more complicated and nuanced than World War Two movies often are. I like Mother Night type stories where someone has to play a role but then begins to worry about the way that their fake self is bleeding into their real self, and for the most part Black Book takes that premise and treats it seriously. I’m not going to ding it too many points just because it lost the focus on a few explosion heavy scenes, because those are kind of de rigeur for a movie in this genre.