Is it just me or does it seem like that lately films aimed at a young adult audience seem to have quite mature themes to them. Films like Divergent, Hunger Games and Brian Percival’s (several episodes of Downton Abbey) The Book Thief, which was based on the popular novel of the same name by Markus Zusak, all are of a different ilk that those annoying Twilight films, no? They expect young people to want to see films that make them feel and think as well as be entertained. About time they realized that not all teenagers want to see drivel when they go to the cinema.
Once her mother (Heike Makatsch – Love Actually, Resident Evil) is charged with being a communist, young Liesel (Sophie Nélisse – Monsieur Lazhar) was left on her own. It is April 1938 and Germany during World War II was not a great time (as if there is a great time) for a young girl to be on her own. A stroke of luck happens, though she didn’t think so at the time, when Liesel is adopted by a German couple.
Hans (Geoffrey Rush – Shakespeare in Love, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) and Rosa Hubermann (Emily Watson – Breaking the Waves, War Horse) are an older couple with no children. Rosa is a tough woman who hides her big heart behind her gruff exterior while Hans is a kind-hearted man. On the way to her foster parents Liesel’s older brother (Julian Lehman – first film) dies and she keeps “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”, a book he always had with him.
Despite the fact that she now has a roof over her head and food in her belly Liesel does not want to stay with the Hubermann’s and has plans to run away. She begrudgingly tells the young boy next door, Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch), of her plans to leave as soon as she can. He does not want her to so does everything he can to make her stay. They become fast friends.
Hans also sees that the girl is not happy. He also notices her attachment to the book. Soon he also realizes that she is illiterate. With his kind ways Hans is able to gain Liesel’s trust and even begins to teach her to read. Soon she begins to devour every book she can get her hands on. A devoted reader has been born.
Things are going along very well considering the War going on. That all changes when the Hubermann’s take in a young Jewish man named Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer). Hans feels obliged to do so because the young man’s father once saved his life. The Hubermann’s do this at great risk to themselves as the Nazis routinely check homes for people hiding Jews. Soon their entire existence revolves around the hiding of Max.
There are oodles of films about World War II. Even several told from a German perspective. But there are none that I can think of that present the story from this perspective. The film actually is told from the perspective of Death, who tells the tale of a young girl who loved to read and who affected the lives of many people around her. It is a film that tugs at your heartstrings though there are plenty of happy little moments in it as well. A story about ordinary people living through extraordinary times and being up to the challenge.
Unlike other films aimed at teens this does not deal with love, lust, fitting in or vampires. It aspires to something greater – the human condition. How humans, especially young humans, deal with extraordinary circumstances is examined and it is shown that even in the worst of circumstances the chance to make connections and act humanely is possible.
Every square inch of the film has been thought out. The scenery is at times breathtaking. Incredibly amongst an adult cast that is made up of such talented actors as Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush it is the acting of the younger cast members that leaves the greatest impression. Adopted Montrealer Sophie Nélisse and Nico Liersch add a depth to their characters that belies their young ages. Told at what might be described as a slower pace, it really lends to the fleshing out of the story and characters and as a result makes it seem all that much more realistic.
Though it is aimed at young people The Book Thief is one that all ages can enjoy. Rare are the films that parents can sit and watch with their young ones and not be annoyed or bored out of their trees at. Brian Percival has done the near impossible in that he has brought to the big screen a successful adaptation of a popular book. An understated film which makes me long for more to be made of its calibre.
-A Hidden Truth: Bringing The Book Thief to Life