With one film, Paul Verhoeven’s masterful Black Book, Carice van Houten has proven herself the deadliest Nordic import since Lena Olin never mind my geographical ignorance, she just reminds me of Lena Olin. Combining the wanton sensuality and feral ruthlessness of Olin’s characters from The Unforgivable Lightness of Being and Romeo is Bleeding, van Houten’s performance as Rachel Stein is a gift to filmmakers. Here’s an actress who somehow survives the unflinching, onscreen indignity of dying her pubic hair, sleeping with Nazis, and, the topper, getting showered with human excrement. And what’s remarkable about this is that, through it all, there’s no question she’s in control. There’s nothing you can do to this woman that she can’t withstand and, ultimately, avenge.
It takes a very confident woman to give as good as she gets with Verhoeven (even Sharon Stone wasn’t in complete control as Catherine Tramell); if you can brawl that Dutch bastard to a draw, you’ve arrived. The only question is whether Hollywood will know what to do with her.
So far, not so good. Now that she’s completed her turn as Tom Cruise’s wife in Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie, she’ll move on to Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies, where she’ll play Leonardo DiCaprio’s love interest. And after that, it’s The Repossession Mambo as Jude Law’s wife.
I sincerely hope these roles aren’t as bland and secondary as they sound, but, as discussed last week, Hollywood isn’t exactly in the business of writing dynamic female characters. And it’s not really a lead/supporting issue, either; van Houten’s ferocious presence would be wasted on P.S. I Love You or The Jane Austen Book Club. Emily Blunt, who was equally revelatory in My Summer of Love, is being squandered in much the same way.
What can I say? It’s still a guy-dominated industry. But it’s not like Hollywood’s most powerful female directors – e.g. Nancy Meyers, Nora Ephron and Callie Khouri – would utilize her any more effectively. Catherine Breillat would be an obvious match, but good luck seeing the ensuing collaboration in America. Perhaps a Sofia Coppola or Niki Caro could do van Houten justice. The obvious answer to breaking van Houten in this country would seem to be Kathryn Bigelow, but when’s the last time she had access to top-notch material?