The Book Thief was presented, via its extensive advertising campaign, to be a a piece of unusual and thought-provoking cinema. I mean a candid perspective of Nazi Germany conflict from that of a child's? It is no wonder the novel was met with such attention and quiet spectacle. However, director Brian Percival's independent vision has polarised critics - its innocent representation said to be trifling and insulting - thats is its simplicity almost satirically tragic. An abundance of snow and laughter and simple gestures of love, The Book Thief is never cold. It is at times heartbreaking in its beauty but its uneven quality compromises what could have been a truly great film.
Narrated by "the Angel of Death", Liesel Meminger ( Sophie Nélisse) is taken in by foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson). Surrounded by the propaganda of Hitler's movement, Leisel's foster family take to providing shelter and concealing a Jewish man, Max Vanderberg. Together, Leisel and Max indulge in the forbidden joy of books and literature.
It is two principal features of the film which have resulted in its mixed critical attention. Firstly, the use of the narrator - Death. The analogies provide potentially, poetic beauty and another layer to the film. However, the narrative voice of death will make you grimace at his clichéd words - an irony which is entirely unintentional. At times his presence is most appropriate but at others - he is idle and petty, undermining the cinematic and artistic quality of what has shaped up to a be a most disappointing film.
The second controversial aspect of the film is its representation of the Holocaust. There is no doubt that the film has provided a rather light and polished insight into the violence that the Jewish people fell victim to - a most horrific genocide that unfortunately many claim the film has undermined. However, perhaps the intended purpose of the director was such. By presenting the holocaust very naïvely, he has somehow emphasised how the story has been told from a child's point of view.
The cinematography is rather generic and to be expected. I can recall only one distinctive scene - the eerie sight of the empty street at twilight as Max revels in the beauty of the night sky. In the background, the distinctive sound of bombs dropping can be heard.
The Book Thief begins with the presentation of an interesting premise however flattens out towards the end to a most dispiriting conclusion. An alluring ending, perfectly plotted by the author, seems wasted on the director who used all his effort for the previous events. I suppose it requires some talent of the director to adapt a book of such cultural significance to a film which handles its issues as trivial and lethargic.