It is yes, another account of Nazi Germany at the beginning of the Second World War. But the very first scene, when the narrator introduces himself, sets the film in a sort of limbo and immediately shows its special character. The story is told through the eyes of a young girl, Liesel, but narrated by the words of the Death. That same Death who was going to get very busy during the following years: Hitler’s most trusted servant.
The huge catastrophe of the war is conveyed through family size dramas, the larger picture is condensed in a couple of streets in the village. Emotions tied a knot in my throat although no bloodshed is portrayed in the movie. I had read Mark Zusack’s title novel and knew the story – and the history as well, that still never stops surprising me in anger. But still, I was bolted to my chair.
The movie is faithful to the original novel by Mark Zusack in its narrative solution and in the use of many German words all along. Despite the short time of the movie, the director manages to depict the characters in their humanity. Very cinematographic and theatrical, the pictures don’t convey the misery of the story he tells and Liesel always looks like she was not suffering the privations of the time. The passionate performance of Geoffrey Rush perfectly creates Hans’ reassuring sense of calm in the wrecking reality.
The preliminaries are set very soon: after witnessing her younger brother’s death Liesel is left by her mother in a village in Germany to the safe care of new adoptive parents: the man with the accordion, Hans (Geoffrey Rush), and Rosa (Emily Watson), the tough woman who rumbles like thunders.
A stranger in a new town, Liesel very soon starts to create bounds with those who leave their hearts open. Papa is the very first one, Mama will shortly follow. And Rudy, the boy next door, immediately becomes her best friend. At this stage the war starts interweaving more strongly with the plot, and Max appears: a fugitive Jew and son of a man who gave his own life for Hans, Max goes to him as his own last resort. The characters of Max and Liesel melt one into the other, revealing their similarities as they helped each other to survive and understand the outside world.
The Book Thief is is a story of individuals. The film leads us through their relationships and makes us love these characters one after the other. It is also a story of loss from the very beginning, with the death of Liesel’s younger brother and the departure of her mother and the tragedy of the war that takes so much from everyone. And of course it is a story of books. From the very first one Liesel steals at the funeral of her brother (before she even learns to read) to those that helped her keep Max and herself alive, through the many more that were burnt under Nazi rule.
A story of words, written and read. Words that instill life in every single thing on earth, as Max explains. And words that are not said, that fail to leave the lips they were already leaping from – before our Narrator promptly comes and take them away.
From Mark Zusack’s novel: The Book Thief