The Book Thief

The Book Thief photo starrating-4stars.jpgIn 1938, at the age of 11, Liesel is sent to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann in Molching, Germany, near Munich. She has been given up by her mother following her brother’s death. At first, life in the small town seems carefree to her. However the Nazi presence gradually grows increasingly oppressive. Liesel begins acquiring books that the party has deemed forbidden. At one point, the couple also take in a Jewish refugee named Max. She shares her books with Max and they develop a deep friendship not unlike an older brother to a younger sister.

At its most basic genre, The Book Thief is a war drama, but it’s oh so much more. Little Liesel is played by extraordinary French-Canadian Sophie Nélisse. I took note of her movie debut back in 2011’s Monsieur Lazhar. Here the young actress is given the lead and she is outstanding. In addition to the relationship with her foster parents, Liesel also makes friendships with the young man in hiding, a neighbor boy her own age and the Bürgermeister’s wife. These richly detailed connections provide a way for the script to detail the horrors of the Nazi party. It is Liesel through which these interactions occur. Nélisse is positively hypnotic in the role and I would follow her on any adventure. A large part of why the chronicle succeeds is because of her charisma.

The Book Thief is beautifully adapted from Marcus Zusak’s beloved 2006 best seller. A majority of the action takes place within the narrow world of Himmel Street, the road on which she lives. That serves the plot a unique focus to explore themes that affect a specific time and place. The movie doesn’t shy away from the truth: book burnings, air raids, and violent deaths all contribute to the narrative. It would have been very easy to ratchet up thrills by showing lots of atrocities. Yet the PG-13 family film takes the creative route by portraying the action with a alternative point of view. The portrait examines Nazi Germany through a child’s eyes and what they encounter.

The Book Thief is a real throwback to classic Hollywood filmmaking for the entire family. It becomes more powerful for its handling of a difficult subject in an innovative way. There are moments where the production lags a bit, but the majority of wonderful characters makes up for the occasional lull. These include people like blonde haired Rudy, the 10 year old boy whose Olympic idol is Jesse Owens or Max who paints over the pages of Mein Kampf to create a blank book in which Liesel can write. Sometimes an innocent sees the beauty of their surroundings first and slowly becomes aware of the ugliness underneath. In time, Liesel realizes the Nazi are in fact responsible for her brother’s death and mother’s disappearance. She doesn’t necessarily understand the reasons why, but just that it has happened. She comes to the same conclusions as an adult, but from a different perspective. The Book Thief is an important drama that celebrates freedom of thought and love of humanity from the refreshing viewpoint of a child.

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17 Responses to “The Book Thief”

  1. Solid work and it’s nice to see you thought much more highly of this than me, and you actually made me really think twice about a few things that disappointed me here. The point of view thing is particularly interesting because it does change things; there’s a lack of “action” per se because the film is choosing to use writing and books to detail certain horrors. I wasn’t prepared for all of this going in and had apparently a much harsher initial reaction to its quietness. I still agree though about Sophie Nelisse. She was excellent

    • I was no enthralled with the story of this little girl. That was all the action I needed. The audience score is 80% on RT so the general public seems to love this, if not the critics.

  2. I don’t always see a movie twice, but this one deserved a second viewing. It not left you mesmerized, but it also left an indelible mark how Liesel’s bravery carried her through the toughest times of her life. This movie definitely deserves a nod for Best Picture!

  3. I already knew I was gonna love this movie. The preview captured me completely and I was not disappointed. It was such a heartwarming, emotional and sad film. I too fell in love with Liesel. I felt all her emotions. Such a great little actress. Can’t wait to see what she does next. 4 stars.

  4. Very fine review Mark. I was very impressed with the performances by the actors in the film, and felt the film was quite involving. I was also amazed with the cinematagraphy, and the musical score. I am so pleased to have seen this film.

    I am kind of amazed that the film seemingly is garnering much higher ratings from viewers and bloggers than from many professional critics. They are entitled to their perspectives, but I just don’t see any justfication for such negativity. In my own review, I took a few of them to task.

    Thanks for your fine work.

    • I too find the disparity between viewers and professional critics odd. This seems like a classic tale that would garner lots of Oscar nominations. It certainly captured my heart.

  5. Completely agreed. This is a very good drama. I think there a handful of flaws that keep it from being extraordinary, but I’m with you, generally. I don’t understand why so many critics dislike it.

  6. Another one I didn’t know you’d seen. I really can’t expect much of this movie, though, when I go see it. I feel like I have to read the book first, and it just doesn’t look good in the trailer.

  7. I’m reading the book at the moment. I really can’t imagine this as a movie but it seems like it has been well adapted…

    Envoyé de mon iPhone

    >

  8. If you haven’t read the novel on which the movie’s based (I only read the first few chapters), it may be of interest to know that the author employs a gimmick. He has Death provide bits of background narration throughout the story. They left some traces of the device in the movie – in the opening scenes and then more extensively right at the end – but mercifully the script writers had the good sense to jettison most of it.

    In the book though, the author goes to some pains to give Death a specific personality – a very ordinary guy whom we’re invited not to fear or blame since he’s just going about the business assigned to him, neutral in his judgments, impartial in his choices. I’m not sure I know what the point was, but I’m pretty sure the author thought it was important. I’d guess he was trying to deal with the awfulness of what happened in Germany then and what happens in war generally. Who winds up dead, Death tells us, isn’t a judgment on anybody, it’s just a crap shoot. You can’t do anything about it so accept life – and death – as it comes. A little like Woody Allen dealing with the Holocaust by saying in effect, “I can’t make sense of it, so I guess I’ll go see a Marx Brothers’ movie.”

    The trouble with that slant on things, is that in THIS story, who lives and who dies isn’t a crap shoot at all. It would have been if the agents of death had been disease and accidents and natural catastrophes. But except for the girl’s brother at the beginning, all the deaths come about as result of human malevolence (Nazi persecutions) and stupidity (Allied blanket bombings). Those deaths are attributable to the actions of specific people. There’s a sense in which they “could” have been prevented; and next time around, history’s trying to tell us, they SHOULD be.

    • In reality, who lives and who dies is attributable to both random factors (disease) and human intervention (murder).

      The death character in the book does indeed seem odd. You didn’t finish the novel. Does that mean you didn’t enjoy it? What say ye of the movie?

      • The death-personnified gimmick was muddle-headed and annoying, and that’s why I gave up on the book. The screenplay was a big improvement, although after you’ve seen your first two thousand “oh, those Nazis!” movies, it takes a pretty fresh slant on the subject to make it come alive. The girl did a good job in her part, and the unlikeable-but-admirable foster mother was one of the better touches. The resolution – what happens to virtually everybody but the girl; and then, what happens to her and what Death says about it – came up just a bit short, I thought.

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