Friday, November 22, 2013

The Book Thief

By James Colt Harrison

Director Brian Percival’s The Book Thief is a thoroughly satisfying look at life that tugs at the heartstrings. Set in Nazi Germany during World War II, we see there were decent people who were willing to put their lives in danger to save the soul of another human being.

The film is based on the best-selling 2005 novel written by Markus Zusak of Australia. Both the film and the book tell the story of young Liesel (Sophie Nelise), who is high-spirited and inquisitive. She is sent to live with a foster family. Allegedly her biological mother is a communist and the Nazi’s are out to kill her. Leisel is thrust into the lives of simple folk like Hans (Oscar® winner Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Oscar® nominee Emily Watson), and she transforms the lives of everyone she meets.

It’s the frightening time of 1938 when Jewish stores were looted and set afire, books were burned in huge piles to keep the from corrupting German youth, and Jews were persecuted and kept on the run by the Gestapo. Leisel saves a book from the raging pyre and becomes fascinated by it. Foster Dad teaches her how to read and her curiosity is insatiable. When delivering laundry to a high-Nazi official’s wife, Leisel sneaks into the library and “borrows” a book. The Mrs allows Leisel to borrow books from the home library and looks the other way. Leisel’s world begins to expand as she reads and learns new things about life.

With several subplots going at the same time, it is sometimes challenging to keep up. Leisel’s close friendship with pal Rudy ( an adorable corn-silk blond boy named Nico Liersch who has personality to spare) is absolutely enchanting, only to conclude sadly. And when a neighboring friend’s son ( Ben Schnetzer) arrives on the doorstep, he must be hidden from the German officers, thus making Leisel an accomplice who must keep the secret.
The film is sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic, but always charming and a bit of a tear-jerker. The film is held together by its stellar cast of veterans and brightened with the presence of Sophie Nelise and Nico Liersch.

Young Sophie Nelise has bouncy blond curls and is perfect for the role of Leisel. She’s a French-Canadian who was chosen for the part after a world-wide search. Although she is inexperienced, the girl is marvelously natural and unaffected. Her portrayal of a young German girl caught between the evil Nazi’s and the gentleness of her foster family is never false. She’s an actress to watch develop in the coming years.

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