“The Book Thief”: A child looks at fascism

I can’t get enough of Geoffrey Rush. I can’t get enough of Emily Watson. I can’t get enough of trying to understand the people living lives under the Nazis.

“The Book Thief” is not a happy movie. It’s narrated by Death, though he’s a trifle friendlier than usually depicted. It’s about a young girl separated from her mother by the insanity of Nazism. She goes to live with an older couple who do their best by her but can barely feed themselves. Soon after her arrival, they take on another guest with even greater problems. All four of them, and a wonderful supporting cast of German villagers, set about the business of trying to survive.

Little Liesel begins the story with the special burden of illiteracy. “Dumkoff,” the other children shriek to her. But she’s a scrapper and we learn early on that if anybody can survive Hitlerism, Liesel can. Books are especially symbolic to Liesel, to the movie, and to the history of Nazism, because of the book burnings.

This movie is no epic war film and not even a broad condemnation of Nazi atrocities. It’s an opportunity to examine a warm microcosm of people in the fascist situation, and its wonderfully explained. The girl’s face as she witnesses all the developments we witness from our movie seats, interprets her world for us. Hanging over everything and everybody is Death, which awaits all of them and all of us, and gives our lives special meaning.

The acting is as wonderful as one would expect from the great Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush. Sophie Nélisse plays Liesel as well as either of the two veterans could ask. I can’t get enough of Sophie Nélisse. 

There’s an IATSE union bug in the last frame.

Photo: Film official site