“The Book Thief” Sugarcoats Its View of War
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
You’d think this picturesque German town in “The Book Thief” was the setting for a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. But the outbreak of World War II festoons the buildings with Nazi banners and the story turns grim.
Here we meet Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), an innocent young fräulein who has been sent to live with a foster family following the death of her brother. The kindly couple (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) are protective of the ten-year-old girl, even teaching her how to read. With this new talent, Liesel begins stealing books and memorizing them, then entertaining Germans huddled in a bomb shelter with her recitations.
Yes, we get the symbolism. Nazis burning books is like burning the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people. And each of the books that Liesel steals “represents a glimmer of hope – for her, for the Jewish community, and for the post-Holocaust world.”
“The Book Thief” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
As directed by Brian Percival, this is an idyllic view of Nazi Germany through a child’s eyes. However, it takes on a touch of realism when her foster parents hide a Jewish boy from the Nazis.
There’s a hint of competition for Liesel’s affections between the hidden boy (Ben Schnetzer) and her neighborhood pal (Nico Liersch), but the romance is about as bland as the movie’s depiction of war. Even when the town is bombed, the victims look as untouched as actors in a pretty play.
Nonetheless, underneath all this kitsch is an ominous story of life and death. We get the message from the narrator (Roger Allam), perhaps the voice of Death himself.
“The Book Thief” is based on the 2005 novel by Markus Zusak (listed as a New York Times bestseller for 230 weeks). Zusak’s parents grew up in Germany during the war and shared their stories of those horrific times with him.
John Williams who scored “Schindler’s List” does the music here too -- a somber rendition as if he doesn’t realize this is a lighter, less substantial version of that earlier masterful film about war and inhumanity and heroism.