A review by Brenda Daniels
The Book Thief is the story of young Liesel Meminger who lives in Germany during World War II. Unable to keep her children, Liesel’s mother sends Liesel and her younger brother by train to a village in Germany to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa.
In the opening moments of the film, Liesel’s brother inexplicably dies leaving only Liesel to start a new life with strangers. During a quiet burial ceremony beside the train tracks the cleric drops a book which Liesel picks up and keeps. It’s title? “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”. This introduction sets the scene for the film: a film about death, about book theft, and about the relationships forged by a young girl through and around those books.
Based on the book of the same title by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief depicts the desperately sad effects of war – and death – on real, small people. Death surprises its victims – depicted in the film by juxtaposing beautiful music and calm narration with violent content. But somehow the subject of death is not morbid and by the end viewers are simply left with a sense of how close death is to each of us. Relationships in The Book Thief are acted with depth and finesse, especially by Geoffrey Rush (Hans), Emily Watson (Rosa) and Sophie Nélisse (Liesel). And it is the relationships that are forefronted; Germany and WWII form only the backdrop.
The film follows the same lyrical quality as the book. It is a beautiful portrayal of how important relationships are in the face of suffering. It is a film that teaches, that moves, that leaves a lasting impression. I will treasure it along with my copy of the book.
The Book Thief opens at NuMetro cinemas in South Africa on 24 January. It carries an age restriction of 10PGV.