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Has the use of Nazis in movies reached the point of being pornographic?

While some observers might

say that line was crossed long ago, others may find that conclusive proof arrives in Brian Percival's "The
Book Thief," based on an international bestseller that The New York Times jibed as "Harry Potter and the
Holocaust." Here, of course, the kind of pornography that's meant isn't erotic (there are only coy
glimmers of that) but sentimental historic horror enlisted in the cause of facile fantasy.

If you go to a bookstore looking for Markus Zusak's novel, the movie's source, you're likely be directed
to the Young Adult or Teen Fiction sections, which explains a lot about the movie's appeal, and lack
thereof. Like a kid-friendly mulch of elements cribbed from "The Diary of Anne Frank" and
"Slaughterhouse-Five," the film conceivably could play well to an audience of 12-year-olds and their
grandparents. Other adults, though, are more apt to find the proceedings an occasion for fits of
squirming and eye-rolling.

This is the movie, after all, that's narrated by Death, a device that you can imagine possibly working in a
Hollywood film of the '30s or '40s, but hardly since. What's the Grim Reaper doing here, besides nudging
along the exposition and dropping ironic bon mots? Obviously, he serves a purpose much akin to that of
the movie's impeccably costumed but barely differentiated Nazis: to attempt giving some thematic
ballast to a tale so wispy and ungrounded that otherwise it might float away.

The center of that fiction is Liesel (Sophie Nelisse), one of those spunky young heroines that keep the
Young Adult industry afloat. When Death first introduces her, in 1938, she is on the run with a fugitive
mother and a little brother who dies in the first scene. Soon after, Mom vanishes over the horizon and
Liesel is taken in by a good-hearted provincial couple, kindly Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and crusty-but-
lovable Rosa (Emily Watson). Was the girl's mom, as is hinted, a communist? Why would this couple,
who barely have enough to eat, take in an unknown child to care for? Such are the questions the movie
ignores as it gallops along to history's accelerating drumbeat.

Here's another: How is it that Liesel, mocked by her new schoolmates for being illiterate, quickly morphs
not just into a reader but one so adept and voracious that she's soon swiping books from the local
burgermeister's library? (This valorization of reading is a transparent come-on in many books aimed at
young readers.) Whatever its source, her newfound passion is one she shares with Max (Ben Schnetzer),
a young Jewish guy the kindly couple hide in their basement. And of course, the Nazis hate books, as
they demonstrate by burning a heap in the town square.

Our heroine's bookishness, meanwhile, is mainly a source of bemusement to Rudy (Nico Liersh), the
flaxen-haired neighbor boy who befriends and dotes on her. In a different, more reality-based movie,
their relationship would be a coming-of-age romance. But though the characters here age from 13 to 17
during the story, at the end they look exactly like the barely pubescent kids they were when it started,
and the troubling excitements of eros never arise.

That ostensibly strange fact is perhaps explained less by the obvious constraints of filming the same
actors in a short production schedule than by the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too logic that guides so
many fantasy narratives. In this realm, people supposedly grow up, yet at the same time remain
magically innocent and unchanged. Likewise, history: the mean old Nazis hound Max and march sad-
looking Jews down the street, but we never see what happens to those Jewsthey remain vaguely
wistful images divorced from the cruel reality of their corporeal fates.

While director Percival ("Downton Abbey") elicits estimable performances from his cast, especially
Nelisse, Rush and Watson, the visible world he embeds them in looks like a set from an old studio movie
or a '50s TV sitcom. Heaven Street, the provincial thoroughfare is called, and its airbrushed quaintness is
as dreamily reassuring as John Williams' score, despite (or because of?) the heavily fetishized Nazi flags
that seem to festoon every available inch of screen space.

In the end, there's a distinct air of solipsism to this tale. To be sure, bombs fall, death ensues, and
Heaven Street briefly appears rather hellish. But Liesel undergoes no discernible transformation, and
that seems to be the point: History may be awful, but a young heroine's spunkiness can overcome
anything. Thus does actual tragedy get reduced to the role of kitschy backdrop, a transposition of true

Movie review: The Book Thief

Category: Cinema
Published: 16 January 2014
Written by Andr Crous
Hits: 1632

No chessboard. Taking shelter from an air raid, Rudy and Rosa bide their time listening to the stories
told by the young Liesel, center.

One of the worst World War II films that have ever seen the light of day

There is something sadistic about the industry inflicting movies on us on a near-annual basis that have to
do with Jews hiding from the Nazis. From time to time, these films have undeniable strength and
importance for example, films that are documentaries, like Shoah or The Night and the Fog, or those
that veer close to being documentaries, like Schindlers List or Europa Europa but just as often there
are movie producers who are more interested in the subject as a moneymaking device than a historic

This is where things usually fall apart. If the subject of fear is used not to teach us about the evil of the
past, but merely as a backdrop to a story about a Christian girl who falls in love with a Jewish boy, and
who reads him bedtime stories when he is bedridden, it can only be described as abominable. And that
is exactly what The Book Thief is.

Rating: *
Directed by Brian Percival
With Sophie Nlisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Nico Liersch and Roger Allam
The Christian girl in question is an orphan named Liesel (Sophie Nlisse). Her brother died recently in the
arms of her mother, who has had to flee because she is a communist, leaving Liesel in the care of a
parentless couple. Her new papa is the kind-hearted, patient and loving Hans Hubermann, played with
grace by Geoffrey Rush. Her second mama, of course, is the strict and offish Rosa (Emily Watson), who
is sharp-tongued, always finds fault with everyone else, and whom we never grow to like.

At her brothers funeral, Liesel had picked up a book, and with this book her world, which has suddenly
shrunk to a small home on a short street in a tiny swastika-emblazoned town in the German
countryside, opens up again, and her relationship with her new father blossoms. She falls in love with
books, and after the predictable scene of a Nazi-organized book burning in the town square, she cant
help but take one of the books, even as it singes under her coat, making her clothes billow with smoke.

The Book Thief may have had the best intentions, but when the street on which the girl lives is called
Himmelstrasse (Heaven Street), and we constantly have a narration supplied by no one other than
Death himself (voiced here by Roger Allam), and everyone speaks as if theyre on the radio, it is truly
embarrassing, and the embarrassment is infuriating because of the importance of the historical context.

For a large part of the film, a young Jewish man, Max, hides out in the Hubermanns cellar, and Liesels
fascination with him, mixed with the secret she has to keep even from her best friend, Rudy, the boy
from next door who never leaves her alone and who, from the way he is acting, apparently had decided
to fall in love with her even before they met could have been the source of an interesting story. But
because of the terrible acting by almost everyone in the cast and the very one-dimensional characters
they all portray, it is difficult to take anything seriously, despite the terrible setting of Nazi Germany.

The only time when the film packs a punch is near the beginning, shortly before the start of the war,
when director Brian Percival intercuts the violence of Kristallnacht with a choir of fair-haired German
children singing their hearts out, dressed in their Hitlerjugend uniforms with enormous flags of the Nazi
Party draped on either side of them. It is a deeply distressing scene for the viewer, which seems to
belong to a different (and infinitely more capable) film. It is also a scene whose gravity is almost entirely
undermined by one a few minutes later in which Liesel and Max make fun of Hitlers mother.

But the worst is yet to come. Never mind Liesel effortlessly wading into frigid waters halfway through
the film and Rudy diving into the ice-cold river to prove his love/friendship, and neither of them so much
as get gooseflesh from the cold: The film ends with almost an exact copy of the final scene of Titanic, in
which the memories of a lifetime are exhibited on cabinets for our perusal, so that we can all have a
nice, warm feeling upon leaving the cinema, knowing that Liesels post-Holocaust life was beautiful.

The Book Thief is one of the worst World War II films I have ever seen. It is one thing to try to balance
humor with the grotesque events that no man or woman and certainly no child should ever have
to face, but it is quite another to essentially make light of the events by having a director who doesnt
seem to mind his actors sounding like they are reading from a page just out of reach of the camera, and
a story that is incompetently vying for our emotions. Having Death narrate the events is silly, if not
appalling, beyond belief, and the whole experience leaves the viewer immensely disappointed, with a
desire that someone should have set light to the screenplay.

Geoffrey Rush has slammed 'mean spirited' reviews of his new film, The Book Thief, saying critics and
Oscar voters need to reconnect with cinema audiences. Here, Rush reveals the inspiration behind his
subtle performance as Hans, an out of work housepainter and 'slight maverick'.

The inspiration for playing Hans came from close to home

Hans is a relatively simple, uncomplicated character who is a working class housepainter in this small,
southern German town.

Im getting the most phenomenal feedback from 10-year-olds to 80-year-olds, some of whom might
have been survivors from the camps. The emotional temperature in the room with these audiences was
Geoffrey Rush

As I was reading the screenplay, I had a lot of thoughts of my stepdad, who was a shearer.

He was very lefty and very down-to-earth; he used to listen to ABC Radio plays in the shed and was self
taught and a very ordinary kind of bloke.

I remember around the time I was in my late teens and being subject to the Vietnam draft here, back in
the late 60s, early 70s. He told me stories about himself being 20 when he was up in Borneo in the
Second World War.

All of these little resonances were kind of floating around inside my head, and they became a useful
touchstone to try to give life and credibility to this character, on top of the beautiful details that Markus
[Zusak] had created in the novel.

This was a more subtle role than many of my other characters

If I look back on my CV, there are quite a few boisterous, extravagant pieces out there, whether its
Barbossa [Pirates of the Caribbean], or the Marquis de Sade [Quills] or Peter Sellers running the gamut
from A to Z of crazy goon characters.

That was part of the appeal for me, to find something that had a slightly more inward, nuanced
uncertain quality with a lot of ambiguities in it. It was kind of a self challenge in some ways.

Hans's hairstyle was very important in shaping my perception of him

I thought okay, this guy is out of work because he refuses to join the Nazi party, so he becomes a bit of a
pariah within his community, that would have up until then been a close-knit community.

I suppose the stereotype of Nazi control was that the hair was always very severe and very shaped, to go
with the uniforms. Research proved that to be correct, because the hair and makeup department art
directors had hundreds and hundreds of authentic photos of what people in southern German towns
looked like in the late '30s.

Of course *Hans and his wife+ dont have money to have a haircut every couple of weeks, so they were
quite wild and woolly.

It appealed to me that, given Hanss slight maverick political viewpoint, his musicianship and his
layabout quality, that the hair would be subliminally a statement of mild anarchy.

I think critics should only watch new films on the big screen

I did my online voting [for the Academy Awards] the other day, because Im a member of the academy.

I suppose the majority of people now watch and vote from screeners, but I try not to do that unless
theres no way I can catch it on the big screen. It makes such a difference, and in some ways I also wish
the critics would go and watch them, with audiences, on a big screen.

If youve got a remote in your right hand and you think, Ill just go to the bathroom or pop out and get a
cup of coffee, youve broken the rhythm that the director, editors and actors have slaved over to
achieve a unified piece of storytelling thats meant for communal involvement.

The Book Thief got a mixture of reviews when it opened in America, and some of them were, I thought,
pretty mealy-mouthed and mean spirited. *At screenings+ Im getting the most phenomenal feedback
from 10-year-olds to 80-year-olds, some of whom might have been survivors from the camps. The
emotional temperature in the room with these audiences was extraordinary, and I think if youre a critic
watching it isolated and not seeing how a 10-year-old or a 13-year-old might look like when they come
out of the cinema, youre missing out a vital ingredient in the process.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Thursday 9 January 2014

Listen to Jason di Rosso's full interview with Geoffrey Rush, and get his latest film reviews on The Final
Cut, your guide to films worth talking about.




REVIEW: Jason di Rosso on The Book Thief

This adaptation of the holocaust novel by German Australian writer Markus Zusak, narrated by Death no
less, is a film with some surprisingly cheery moments. Often war, especially when viewed through the
eyes of children, can deliver some surprising moments of warmth, humour and play.

Anne Franks diary stands out as an example. And so, this story about a young girl handed over to elderly
foster parents in a bleak German townand the Jewish man who hides in their cellardoes play a lot
lighter than you might expect. As the title suggests, the story is also about books, and as Germans start
burning them in town squares across the country, the young protagonist, Leisel (Sophie Nlisse)
becomes an avid reader, encouraged by her good-hearted step father (Geoffrey Rush), and even the
sympathetic wife of the towns Nazi big wig, who has a huge library in her house.

British director Brian Percival, whos been plying his trade on Downton Abbey recently, finds a suitable
compromise in this drama between the historical horrors and the innocence of the storys central
character. The film makes sense most as a kind of family friendly war allegory, though a few moments
are powerful enough to shock even adults. It begins and ends with the image of a dead child, for
example, and theres a surreal scene with a school choir in Hitler youth uniform singing about evil Jews
thats, of course, all the more confronting because its based in historical fact.

At the preview screening I attended, the novels author Markus Zusak spoke about how he was inspired
to write the book by the stories of the war he heard from his German parents while growing up in
suburban Australia. This story feels like a tribute to the kind of everyday courage of people living
through wartime, and enduring the madness of a regime like Hitlers with bravery and resourcefulness.

Alongside Rush, Emily Watson, who plays the step mother, and Ben Schnetzer, who plays the young
Jewish man, embody this kind of resilience. Its enough to inspire Leisel, and despite a slightly
sentimental tinge, her coming of age is quite powerful to watch.

Cast: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Ben Schnetzer, Nico Liersch, Roger Allam

Director: Brian Percival

Based on the book by Australian author, Markus Zusak, the movie version of The Book Thief aims to tug
at the heartstrings.

It's the story of Liesel (a wonderful first time turn from Sophie Nelisse, who's rightfully getting awards), a
young girl pushed onto a foster family in pre-war time Germany in the 1930s. There's the cold-hearted
Rosa (Watson) and the more kindly, music loving and nurturing Hans (Rush). As the road to war
escalates, the initially illiterate Liesel finds herself growing up in a world she understands less but
discovering a love for literature.

When a young Jew Max comes to shelter with Rosa and Hans, the harsh realities of war and the fear of
the Nazis becomes a reality for the family - and their lives will never be the same again.

The Book Thief is an emotionally flat piece, despite the deliberately emotive ideas and the potential for
manipulation. Yet, despite Nelisse's beautifully fragile yet confident tone, it never fires on any real level,
leaving you lamenting how empty the pay off is as the horror hits home.

It's a shame because the attention to period detail is impressive and initially oppressive, but the maudlin
tones of the film never really lift or give you the push to connect and care about these characters as
childhood innocence and naivete are shattered asunder in an entirely bloodless Nazi Germany.

The slow, solemn tone gives way to a feeling that The Book Thief is way too over-long and the narrative
twists can be seen a mile off - the step-mother isn't actually a cruel harpie? While the friendship
between Liesel and the boy next door Rudy (Liersch) is solid enough, the emotional pay off as their
relationship reaches its tragedy is curiously lacking; and it's a shame. Rush delivers a strong performance
and injects the war time mope with some much needed warmth and earnestness and Roger Allam's
deliciously liquid tones work well as the narrator Death.

All in all The Book Thief delivers a competently told tale, but fails to find the emotion needed to turn you
into a blubbering wreck as the tragedy kicks in.

Brian Percival delivers a quietly effective and engaging adaptation of Markus Zusak's WWII-set novel.
Dennis Harvey

Markus Zusaks international bestseller The Book Thief has been brought to the screen with quiet
effectiveness and scrupulous taste by director Brian Percival and writer Michael Petroni. This tale of Nazi
Germany seen from a childs perspective translates into solidly engaging drama, albeit one that may not
be starry, flashy or epic enough to muscle its way into the front ranks of awards-season contenders.
Bolstered by the novels fans, the Fox release (which opens limited Nov. 8) should ride solid reviews and
word of mouth to midlevel prestige returns in line with such comparable medium-scaled WWII dramas
as The Reader and The Pianist.

SEE MORE:From the October 15, 2013 issue of Variety

Petroni streamlines or eliminates some peripheral characters and subplots without compromising the
books essence. Like its source, the film is narrated by Death (voiced by Roger Allam), who says at the
start that he seldom bothers with the living, but took a particular interest in young Liesel Meminger
(Sophie Nelisse). Liesel is first seen on a train in 1938 with her mother and brother, en route to a
destination that her sickly sibling never makes it to. Neither does her mother, who may be headed to
prison due to her communist leanings, its later rumored. So Liesel arrives alone at the doorstep of her
new foster parents, housepainter Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) and his endlessly henpecking wife,
Rosa (Emily Watson).

When it emerges that Liesel is illiterate inviting immediate ridicule from school bully Franz (Levin
Liam) kindly Hans makes a game of teaching her to read. The first tome they conquer is one shed
grabbed when it fell from a laborers coat at her brothers funeral: The Gravediggers Handbook. Later
she dares rescue a burning book from a bonfire of decadent works at a Nazi rally. This act attracts the
lone notice of the local Buergermeisters wife, Frau Hermann (Barbara Auer), who later clandestinely
lets Liesel use her late sons personal library during her weekly laundry deliveries to that imposing

In contrast, the Hubermanns barely scrape along on Rosas laundering and little else; we eventually
deduce that Hans perpetual underemployment is due to his refusal to join the Party. As time passes
and wartime privations grow worse, their domestic situation turns downright dangerous with the arrival
of Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer), the fugitive son of a Jewish comrade who saved Hans life during
WWI. Honor-bound to hide the young man from the authorities, they nurse him back to health, and he
bonds with the fascinated Liesel. Shes sworn to tell no one of his presence, not even best-friend
neighbor Rudy (Nico Liersch), though several times the secret comes fearfully close to exposure.

There are modest setpieces: an air-raid, a worrying house-by-house search by Nazi officials, Maxs
second serious illness, and Liesels hysterical response when Jewish prisoners are marched through
town. But The Book Thief spans these wartime years from a microcosmic vantage point, seldom
straying far beyond the main characters ironically named Heaven Street. Its to the credit of Percival
(best known for helming several Downton Abbey episodes) and Petroni (The Voyage of the Dawn
Treader, Possession) that they refuse to artificially inflate the storys key points for melodramatic or
tear-jerking purposes. By the same token, such intelligent restraint may strike some as too even-
tempered and slow-paced, touching our emotions without heightening them in the way that often gets
more attention come Oscar time.

Rush generously provides the movies primary warmth and humor; Watson is pitch-perfect as a
seemingly humorless scold with a well-buried soft side. Hitherto little-noticed New Yorker Schnetzer is a
real find, making Max a thoroughly ingratiating figure. French-Canadian Nelisse (Monsieur Lazhar)
doesnt come across as the most expressive of junior thesps here, but she looks right and does a
competent job.

Impeccable design contributions are highlighted by Florian Ballhaus somber but handsome widescreen
lensing, and an excellent score by John Williams that reps his first feature work for a director other than
Steven Spielberg in years. One slightly distracting element is the use of Ja and Da in otherwise
English (but German-accented) dialogue, apart from a few public speeches that deploy subtitled
German. The print screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival lacked complete final credits (the ultimate
running time will be longer than listed here), and was also short a few (unnoticeable) final-mix tweaks.

Directed by Brian Percival.

Adapting a well beloved and much respected novel is a fraught business.

And they don't come much more beloved and well respected than Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.

The novel has picked up dozens of international awards, and spent four years on the New York Times
best seller list.

I've lost count of the number of well-meaning friends and colleagues who have told me that I must read
it, and that I'll love it when I do.

And perhaps now I shall, for I've always found the old dictum about good books making for
disappointing films to be broadly true, and The Book Thief has yielded a terribly disappointing film.

The film follows young Liesel Meminger from 1938 until the end of World War 2. Liesel is a German
child, adopted into a poor family in a small provincial town near Munich.

The family take in a young Jewish refugee, and he will hide in the house for much of the war.

Next door to Liesel lives Rudy, a boy of about her own age. Canadian actress Sophie Nelisse is
astonishingly good as Liesel, she is luminous on screen, and quite capable of projecting the complex
suite of emotions that Liesel must travel through during the course of the film.

Next to her, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are both fabulously well cast as Liesel's adoptive parents,
despite Watson's part being criminally underwritten, and largely reduced to that of a stereotypical
shrewish hausfrau with an acid tongue and an ill-concealed heart of gold.

Rush has better luck with his role, and is at least allowed to be kind and witty, but Rush's years of
enjoying his great fortune have left him with a nose that looks like the last raspberry in the punnet, and
not even the genius of Hollywood's best make-up artists can entirely conceal it.

But, Rush's schnoz aside, the film is near faultless technically, and it is exceptionally well acted. The
design, costumes, sets, and the cinematography are all peerless. But in the story-telling, the film goes
badly astray.

The Book Thief has clearly been assembled with an eye on the clock. Scenes are missing, whole sub-plots
are set up, and then come to naught, characters are mentioned at the end of the film who we have
never been introduced to.

All of this points to a film that has been cut down from a far fuller whole. A very smart editor once told
me that she thinks of the scenes in a film as gears, and that editing is the process of getting all those
gears spinning and meshing smoothly with each other.

The Book Thief is a film that has had too many of its cogs left out. Where it needs to build smoothly and
inexorably to a devastating final stanza, it clunks along, and then arrives in a rush.

There are scenes in The Book Thief that will stay with you long after the credits, but as a whole, it is
polished, sporadically impressive, and somehow quite unfinished.