The Book Thief

I watched The Book Thief last night, a movie directed by Brian Percival and starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Sophie Nélisse as the girl Liesel. The film is set in a small German town during WW2.

In 1938 Liesel is taken from her communist parents and given to a “proper” German family (but it turns out that they are not quite as proper as the Nazi’s would wish). It takes some time but eventually Liesel is able to call Hans and Rosa (Rush and Watson) her Mama and Papa. The story continues throughout the war years, during which Liesel befriends Rudy, discovers books (and steals them – borrows them, actually – from the Bürgermeister’s house), and meets Max, a Jew on the run from the Nazis. And learns to fear the latter.

I was particularly interested in seeing how the war affects the lives of ordinary Germans. We often see films and documentaries about life in Britain during that period, but rarely in the enemy’s own land. Because Liesel is barely 13 years old at the outbreak of the war she fails to understand the consequences, seeing things through her young naïve eyes. Thus my interest was piqued because my German mother was of a similar age during the war. The Book Thief gave a small insight into the things she and her family had to deal with.

The film did hold my interest for its two hours, but as it progressed I couldn’t easily predict where it was headed. Sadly, it fizzled out in a somewhat truncated ending. In the last few minutes of the film an air raid destroys the town, which Liesel survives, and then the movie’s narrator (oh yes, the film has a voice-over, a narrator [who is in fact Death] who foretells some of the events that we witness) describes her post-war life in just a few seconds. It was as if the film was only a snapshot of Liesel’s life, a life that continues but is of little interest to the film-makers, or they ran out of steam.

Sophie Nélisse plays her role brilliantly, as do Rush and Watson. No complaints there. For me, the narrator is pointless. When Death introduces the characters, hinting at events to follow, I expected a supernatural story: it isn’t and I was disappointed on that score. I haven’t read the novel (by Markus Zusak) and to be honest I don’t think I can be bothered, though I am glad to have watched the film.




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