Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

April 22, 2014

‘Book Thief’ an underappreciated gem

DVD Review

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat

emann@pvdemocrat.com — The atrocities and crimes committed during the Nazis’ rise to power may be one of the most documented time periods for cinema, but that does not mean that all the great stories have been told. Fiction has allowed some pretty interesting takes on this dark era, including today’s title, which offers a look we might have not thought to take into the lives of citizens under Herr Jerkenstein.

What makes this submission unique isn’t so much the removal of the horrors witnessed, but finding a way to navigate through it with curiosity and at times, a dry and clever humor. We see that none can escape meeting an end one day some way or another, all wrapped around the growth and triumph of spirit by one fascinating individual. “The Book Thief” does not try to hide the fact that it did not really happen, but allows it feel real enough and make one want to be a part of making the wrongs of the world right.

Narrated by the Angel of Death (Roger Allam), or Grim as his pals call him, the story is a clever woven tapestry of first and third person style about a young girl he becomes fascinated, Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse). No longer able to be cared for by her mother (Heike Makatsch), she is taken to live with foster parents, Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann.

Though our young Liesel is not really keen on doing anything except running away and convinced at first that Rosa is a very unpleasant and bitter soul, she does find kindred spirits in the form of the gentle natured Hans and a young boy in the village named Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch). She is further convinced to stay when she learns to read from a grave digging manual of all things, and cannot help but feed this new love, even if it means snagging new tales from dangerous places like a Nazi book burning. Risking everything to feed her passion, we catch glimpses of the impacts of the ever encroaching conflict of World War II and even how she deals with the treatment of Jewish people.

I can see why this has become so popular with so many people and again scratch my head when some of the nitpicky complaints by critics include it being too soft on portraying this time period. Another movie with a similar tone that comes to mind that I may have to watch again is “Good,” where quite a few critics rate it oddly low since they can’t stand a portrayal of Hitler’s crew as anything less than the villains in “Indiana Jones.”

I am also again in awe of the genius of John Williams and so far feel reaffirmed in my belief he was robbed of award recognition (to a rather blech effort that it lost to in Gravity’s soundtrack). In some ways this reminds me slightly of the “Diary of Anne Frank” mixed with a lighter Hitler Youth infused “Europa Europa.”

I highly recommend it not just as a good use of one’s time, but as something that spurs discussion in an educational setting. It’s worth a not so morbid four and one fourth out of five reapings for “The Book Thief.”

DVD rental courtesy of Family Video of Pauls Valley.