Over the years, the war film genre has been boiled down into a simple struggle between good versus evil, the former being the Allied forces and the latter Nazi Germany. But something has been happening of late within the film industry suggesting the issue is not as black-and-white as we have been lead (or willing) to believe, writes Francine Wolfisz
The Book Thief is just the latest in a line of films from recent years, which include The Reader, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas and last year’s Lore, which attempt to turn the genre on its head and present the horrors of the Second World War from the German point of view.
Based on the bestselling novel by Australian author Markus Zusak and directed by Brian Percival, this poignant tale revolves around a courageous young German girl named Liesel (played by mesmerising newcomer Sophie Nelisse), who is sent to live with foster parents Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) and his wife Rosa (Emily Watson) just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Taunted by her classmates as “dummkopf” for her inability to read, Liesel develops a determination to learn. She works day and night with “Papa” Hans as she pores over her first tome, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, which she walks off with following her brother’s funeral – an impulsive act of thievery that will later have profound consequences.
Against all this, we have the backdrop of Nazi Germany rising in the distance. Books are being burned, Jews and Communists are being rounded up – some, like Liesel’s birth mother are never seen again – while innocent youngsters are being recruited into the Hitler Youth. One becomes particularly sinister when he embraces Nazism with vigour.
But there are many that stand up against Hitler, including Liesl and her new-found friend Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch). The Hubermanns also show their bravery and compassion when they choose to save the life of Jewish refugee Max (Ben Schnetzer) by hiding them in their basement – and risk theirs in return.
Away from the sweeping cinematography and stirring, haunting soundtrack from John Williams, the film also features an unusual, but effective device – the story is narrated by the character of Death (voiced by Roger Allam).
Poignant and powerful, I was left entranced by this thought-provoking film – not to mention a huge lump in my throat. Be prepared to pack the Kleenex.
The Book Thief (12A) is released in cinemas on 26 February