Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Jul 04th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Words of Wonder

film the-book-thiefReading an antidote to war in beautifully acted 'Book Thief'

You need not have read Markus Zusak's bestselling young adult novel to be drawn to The Book Thief. Bibliophiles, in particular, will find the premise of a child who steals books because she is so addicted to reading just about irresistible. As usual with literary adaptations, there's a lot more going on in Zusak's 500-plus-page novel than ever makes it to the screen. But the essence of Zusak's story about a girl whose love of books helps her to survive devastating times—the rise of the Nazis in a World War II-era German town—retains its power.

Scripted by Michael Petroni (who's had a hand in adapting authors as diverse as Anne Rice and C.S. Lewis for the screen), The Book Thief is directed by Downton Abbey veteran Brian Percival. It's a stately looking film that wisely concentrates on personal dynamics, while the escalating horrors of the war are kept mostly off-screen. And it finally succeeds on an ensemble of absolutely lovely performances led by Geoffrey Rush as the girl's warm-hearted foster father, Emily Watson as his crusty-seeming wife, and beguiling 13-year-old French-Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse in the title role.

The story begins in 1938, with young Liesel (Nélisse) riding in a train with her mother and sickly little brother. But the boy dies and is buried in a snowy graveyard near the tracks. Soon, Liesel has been turned over to the authorities by her mother (an alleged Communist), and is being delivered to her new foster parents, Hans (Rush) and Rosa (Watson) Hubermann, in a town outside of Munich. Rosa fumes that they were expecting two children, and the extra government subsidy that would come with them, but Hans has a care for the frightened girl's feelings and steadily earns her affection with his gentleness and good humor.

Liesel quickly gains a new best friend in smitten next-door neighbor, Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch), and she beats up the class bully in a fury for mocking her when her new schoolmates find out she can't read or write. When Hans, a semi-employed sign painter, discovers a book in Liesel's possession—"The Gravedigger's Handbook," which she found dropped at her brother's graveside—he suggests they read it together; he also creates a "dictionary" in chalk on the walls of the basement to help her learn new words.

As Liesel awakens to the wonder of words, the Nazis come to power with their campaign of moral and intellectual "cleansing." When books are burned in the square, she can't resist smuggling a smoking volume home. Delivering a basket of laundry Rosa has washed to the buergmeister's house, Liesel bonds with the buergmeister's wife (Barbara Auer), who invites her to make use of the family library. Even after the buergmeister stops sending his laundry to Rosa, Liesel starts sneaking into the library to "borrow" books.

But Liesel's petty crimes pale next to the war encroaching steadily into the town: neighbors are conscripted into the army, Jews are dragged out of their homes for an unknown fate, and terrifying air raids disrupt everything. Tensions mount when the Hubermanns shelter Jewish refugee, Max (Ben Schnetzer), in their basement—a young man who also loves words and encourages Liesel to tell her own story.

There is probably more book thievery in the novel than the film; the filmmakers focus more on character relationships. And, like the book, the film is narrated intermittently by Death (voice of Roger Allam), a device that sometimes feels precious and distancing, but also turns up some wry observations. ("When the time comes, don't panic," Death advises us humans. "It doesn't seem to help.") It also keeps the audience on edge throughout, knowing that in any story involving Nazis, Death will play a big part, sooner or later.

That the worst of war's brutality is kept off-screen fits with the viewpoint of children who can't really comprehend what's happening in the larger world. (It seems odd in one scene that bombing victims' bodies are stretched out peacefully intact on the ground after the buildings are reduced to rubble.) But the emotional connection between the characters—especially the moving relationship between humble Hans, struggling to retain his humanity, and his devoted Liesel—gives the film its validity and grace. 


THE BOOK THIEF  ★ ★ ★ (out of four) With Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Ben Schnetzer. Written by Michael Petroni. From the novel by Markus Zusak. Directed by Brian Percival. A 20th Century Fox release. Rated PG-13. 131 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

The Boards Are Back in Town

More than a century after a famed trio of Hawaiian princes first surfed in Santa Cruz, their redwood olo surfboards are returning to the Museum of Art & History

 

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

Saturday, July 4, is the 239th birthday of the United States, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence (the U.S. astrology chart has Aquarius moon—freedom for its people, by its people). Cancer, a liberating and initiating sign, is the “gate” where Spirit enters matter. Cancer receives and distributes Ray 3 (Divine Intelligence) and Ray 7 (new rules, new rhythms, new free nation under God). Cancer represents an intelligent freethinking humanity that can and must create right economics for the world. This means a policy of sharing, an opportunity for the U.S. when Venus (money, resources, possessions, etc.) retrogrades July and August in Leo (the heart of the matter). The United States has a unique spiritual task for the world: to lead humanity within and toward the light, accomplished by its people who must first awaken to this task, learn discrimination and be directed by the soul to assume the Herculean task of spiritual world leadership. Let us review the first words of our Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.” Let us form that union together. The following is a review of the spiritual tasks for each sign. Read all the signs. They all apply to everyone.  

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of July 3

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Lunch is Packed

Picnic basket lunches from Your Place, plus smoked chili peppers, and new owners at Camellia Tea House

 

What would you like the Supreme Court to rule on next?

Raising the minimum wage so that those that are in poverty now can have a higher standard of life. Greanna Smith, Soquel, Nanny

 

Bruzzone Family Vineyards

Bruzzone Family Vineyards is a small operation run by Berna and John Bruzzone. Starting out a few years ago making only Chardonnay, they eventually planted Pinot Noir on their extensive property and now make this varietal as well.

 

Ty’s Eatery

Pop-up hooks up with Santa Cruz Food Lounge for healthy comfort food