Sunday, November 17, 2013

"The Book Thief" gives a look at civilian life in Nazi Germany, and as to what made people tick

The Book Thief”, by Brian Perival, based on the novel by Markus Zusak (and Australian who seems quite young for such subject matter), renders a close up look at what it was like to live as a Gentile in Nazi Germany before and during World War II, and it gives some insight into why people thought and behaved the way they did.
A young girl Liesel (Sophe Nelisse), adopted with her brother by a kindly shoemaker Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and his wife in the mid 1930s,  helps shelter (after “Crystal Night”) a very appealing young Jewish man Max (Bem Schnetzer), who seems sickly at first but gradually regains strength after a couple of close calls.  The Nazi establishment gradually lowers the boom on private citizens, making them attend patriotic rallies outdoors in the town square and then inspecting homes and basements.  
One gets the impression that the people really believed that they had to hang together to survive and then prosper in a world of “enemies”.  Yet, Hans and his family (with Emily Watson) quickly realize there is something that doesn’t make sense about the rampant anti-Semitism.

The patriotic songs are telling. One is the song of “National Socialism”, and another is based on the slow movement of one of Joseph Haydn’s string quartets. 
Liesel has learned to read from her adoptive father, who has written part of a dictionary on the basement wall.  Max enhances her love of learning, saying that what distinguishes a living from an inert thing is just a word. Today, we would say that is DNA.  Liesel takes to “stealing” books from a local burger’s home.  Maybe there’s no public library, where “it’s free”.
Eventually, war comes to their town, which is bombed and destroyed, leaving the people to rebuild their lives like everyone else after liberation by the Allies.
The film, from Baselberg Studios, is released under the regular 20th Century Fox trademark than Searchlight, which is more commonly used for overseas-sourced films.  Nevertheless, this first weekend, the film is showing mostly in “arthouses”.  I saw it at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA before an almost sold-out Sunday afternoon crowd in a big auditorium.
The official site is here

The rather gentled original music score is by John Williams.  The narrator is Roger Allam, and the film opens and closes with images clouds from above. 

The theater also showed a 3-minute short, "Porsche", about making a model of the car from ice. 

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