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Movie review – The Book Thief

| 2 January 2014

The Book Thief

Reviewed by Trulie Pinnegar

The Book Thief - Movie

We first meet Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) in February 1938, when she witnesses her brother die in their mother’s arms on a packed war time train – a shocking image leaving the audience thinking that the start of this story is the tale of a family who are fleeing war torn Europe. This thought is aided by the narrator (Roger Allam) telling us about how he chooses the souls he takes – is the audience correct in thinking the narrator is God??? What we don’t realise is that these children were on their way to their new adoptive parents in a remote German village.

Her new parents, Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) are both desperate for a family but have very different approaches to parenting. Hans gently invites Liesel to call him Poppa whereas Rosa positively demands she call her Momma. Rudy (Nico Liersch), the busybody neighbour, takes Liesel under his wing and she reluctantly accepts their friendship which grows beyond the audiences’ imagination.

We quickly learn that Liesel cannot read or write and if being adopted and the new kid isn’t enough, she is teased by her school mates as a ‘dummkopf’ from day 1. But Poppa embraces the challenge of teaching Liesel, making her feel better about it by saying that it would help his own skills improve. Liesel goes from strength to strength, proving the naysayers totally wrong and developing a deep love of everything literary, leading her to steal a book from the ashes of a ‘book bonfire’ in the village – little knowing she was seen by the Burgermeister’s wife.

We meet Max (Ben Schnetzer), a Jewish son of one of Poppa’s friends – Poppa is determined to help Max as his father died to save Poppa in the First World War. However, this means that the family must hide him or face certain death at the hand of the Nazis. Max and Liesel strike up a friendship based on their joint appreciation of books – he has one that he brought with him and she shows him the one she retrieved from the fire.

To assist Momma, she returns the Burgermeister’s laundry one day and strikes up a secret friendship his wife who tells Liesel she saw her steal the book and lets her read books in her library each week. It is Max that she shares this secret with and is devastated when the Burgermeister finds out and sacks Momma.

It is interesting to observe WW2 from the German Citizen’s perspective and especially a German child’s perspective. The movie reminds us that they must have hated it, and been as scared, as much as everyone else. One scene is particularly shocking – the group of school children singing a Hitler Youth song with lyrics that tell a tale of how not to enter into a brotherly pact with Jews or non-Germanics as they “falsify the certificate” is just…WOW.

The audience watches on as the Nazis infiltrate this sleepy village. Max decides he has to leave in order to keep the family safe. Before he leaves, he encourages her to keep reading and writing and makes her a blank diary as a gift. Meanwhile Rudy is chosen for elite training against his choice and Poppa gets called up to serve in the army.

One positive thing is witnessing how these misfortunes make Liesel’s relationship with Momma blossom and grow – Liesel gets the motherly figure she so rightfully deserves and Rosa becomes the mother she so wants to be.

Before it ends, the film takes a twist that is powerful and takes the audience completely by surprise – and no doubt ensures there isn’t a dry eye in the house! Viewers who may have read the book before seeing the movie may feel that the movie lacked much of the original story – adequately representing a book is a challenge that the likes of Hollywood must meet on a daily basis, but how often can film makers say they have encouraged viewers to go read a book? Well, they should congratulate themselves this time, because this viewer was so taken with this movie that she wants more and wishes she had read the book first!

Category: Movie & Theatre Reviews

About the Author ()

Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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