Tuesday, November 12, 2013
THE BOOK THIEF (2013)
In Nazi Germany circa 1938 young Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) adapts to her new life in the modest home of amiable Hans (an excellent Geoffrey Rush) and brusque wife Rosa (Emily Watson) after her mother vanishes for vague reasons. Her prized possession is a book taken from the graveside of her brother, who died in transit. While Hans patiently teaches Liesel how to read and write at night, the girl spends her days playing street football or with neighbor boy Rudy (Nico Liersch) who challenges her to races in the hopes of getting a kiss. The Nazi party indoctrinates the children with songs and propaganda at school and gathers the neighborhood together for the periodic book burning under the watchful eye of Burgomeister Hermann (Rainer Bock). At one such gathering Liesel manages to steal a smoldering book from the ashes and smuggles it home. Her fear of being found out, however, is overshadowed by the arrival of Max (Ben Schnetzer), a Jewish refuge whom Hans must hide in the basement in repayment of a debt to the young man’s dead father. Because Hans refuses to join the Party, work is in short supply. So with another mouth to feed Rosa earns extra money doing laundry for the Burgomeister’s wife, Ilsa (Barbara Auer). While delivering clean clothes to the Hermann home Liesel discovers a library of books that proves too great a temptation. Michael Petroni’s adaptation of the young adult novel by Markus Zusak is faithful to a fault. Every memorable scene from the book makes an appearance on screen but few receive sufficient time or dramatic significance to carry much weight or generate much suspense. Conversely director Brian Percival milks every meaningful look and moment, giving the film a sluggish pace. The filmmakers don’t seem to trust the material or the audience’s capacity to absorb it. Instead they feel the need to make life under the yoke of the Third Reich easily digestible for the masses. Even the dead pulled from bombed out buildings look serene and are unsullied by dirt or blood. The contrast between the courage of the book’s Liesel and the timidity of the filmmakers could not be more stark.