Classic Movie Review: The Book Thief (2013)‏

Posted: November 10, 2014 in Drama


Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) is a German girl who has been given up for adoption by her mother (Heike Makastch) who can no longer afford to take care of her.  Her adoptive father, Hans (Geoffrey Rush) is a kindly old accordion player, who loves Liesel at first sight.  Her adoptive mother. Rosa (Emily Watson)  is a strict taskmaster, who demands obedience and not love.  Liesel develops a friendship with the boy next door, named Rudy (Nico Liersch) but is bullied by the rest of the kids in school, especially Franz (Levin Liam) an ardent member of the Nazi youth .  Liesel learns to read with the help of Hans, who starts a dictionary for Liesel on the walls of his basement.  Liesel attends a book burning, but she would much rather read books than burn the, also there are hints that her mother is a Communist, so she is already feeling like an outsider to the Nazi regime.

After Kristallnacht, a young Jewish man named Max (Ben Schnetzer) runs away from his mother’s house fearing for his life.  He asks for refuge at Hans’ house.  Hans feels obligated to Max’s father, because Max’s father saved Hans’ life during WWI and gave him his accordion for safe keeping.   Hans takes Max in and hides him in the basement, where he and Liesel strike up a friendship based on their mutual disdain for Hitler.  Max also teaches Liesel to read and write in descriptive language.  Max gives her a book as a present.  Rudy throws the book into the river during a fight with Franz rather than hand the book to Franz.  Franz informs the Nazis about the book and they are soon at Hans’ door to search his basement.  Do the Nazis find Max or do Hans, Rosa and Liesel continue to hide him?
This is a great movie, because it not only shows the Nazi atrocities, book burning, Kristallnacht and the segregation of Jews by forcing them to wear what is called the Jewish badge, it shows the absolute change in German attitudes towards the war as the war dragged on.  At first, the German kids are running through the streets excited to fight, as the fighting continues, there is a palpable sense of war weariness, and futility about the war.  Of course the filmmakers take the anti-Nazi sentiment too far, It’s doubtful that there were kids yelling “I hate Hitler!” as the film portrays, but the underlying anti-war theme is a powerful one, underscored by the voice of death narrating the film.  Liesel learning to read is a metaphor for her learning about the ugliness of life in the Nazi regime, but there’s also a sense that learning is the only way that people can bring down oppressive regimes, that is a very subtle point made by the movie.  The ending is emotional, with a mix of emotions, nothing more needs to be said.
The acting is superb.    Geoffrey Rush is lyrical almost poetic as Hans, he wants to be an oasis of sanity for Liesel n the insane world around him.  Emily Watson is excellent, as the stern matriarch, who has layers of depth beneath that stern exterior.  Sophie Nelisse s exceptional in an intricate role that demands her to play the role with the simplicity of a child but the emotional complexity of an adult. There are many great supporting performances to go along with the strong lead performances, just an outstanding ensemble cast.
The direction is great, the cinematography is clear and picturesque the viewer really does feel like he is spending a winter in Germany.  The scenes of Nazi atrocities come in short, sharp bursts, as if to increase the shock value of Kristallnacht or wearing the Jewish badge.  These scenes are a sudden jolt to remind viewers, that yes this is Nazi Germany and yes people are being killed for their religious beliefs.
Movies like The Book Thief need to continue to be made, we must never forget the horror that is the Holocaust.


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