November 06, 2013

Review: Book and Film: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Film: The Book Thief
Released: November 8, 2013
Time: 131 mins

Director: Brian Percival
Writer: Michael Petroni
Producer(s): Karen Rosenthal, Ken Blancato
Stars: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Ben Schnetzer, Nico Liersch

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While subjected to the horrors of WWII Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. Under the stairs in her home, a Jewish refuge is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Published: March 14, 2006
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 552 pgs

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It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. 

Recently, Maria and I were incredibly honored to be invited to the press junket of the upcoming film The Book Thief, based on the book of the same name.

Below, you can find our thoughts on the film as well as some quotes from Brian Percival (Director); Emily Watson (Rosa), Geoffrey Rush (Hans), and Sophie Nelisse (Liesel).

I've read the book twice so far since I discovered it a few years ago (sidenote: read my review of the book here), so I knew what was coming. And I can honestly say that this film does the book great justice.  So often, watching an adapted film breaks your heart because the film rarely compares to your imagination while reading. But this film had me glued to the screen the entire time -- reliving all of the emotions I felt the very first time I read the book.

The author, Markus Zusak does such a great job of creating this relatively tranquil atmosphere in the most tumultuous of times. Even though the film is narrated by Death and taking place during the Holocaust, you never feel the actual fear of having to live during that time. It's almost as if you're constantly reminded that you're just an outsider looking in -- watching the life of Liesel Meminger as she goes through tragedy after tragedy and yet still triumphs over it all. Director, Brian Percival put it best this way, "... I know it sounds weird, but death could be beautiful in a funny sort of way. It doesn't have to be this horrible, dreadful demise that we all fear." Percival actually does a fantastic job of keeping true to this atmosphere -- keeping us just one step removed from the action.  And the end, it does nothing to stop you from crying your eyes out as you watch all of the sadness unfold.

One of the other aspects of this film that I adored was, simply enough, the character of Liesel. Let's talk about a strong, female character (all GCR followers know how I feel about that!). Liesel has to be one of the strongest characters I've ever read or seen. Starting from the very first scene where she has to watch her brother die, Liesel deals with the death and moves on the only way she knows how -- through words. Karen Rosenthal, producer of the film, had this to say, "I think that [the film] is about words, it's about the power of words, it's about the experience." Books become an integral part of Liesel's strength. Her grief, her defiance, her friendships, her loves -- they all go hand-in-hand with her discovery of each new book. They allow her to deal with each tragedy and persevere through it all.

This movie was phenomenal in every way you want it to be. I'd recommend both reading the book and watching the film -- see how great they do it justice!

I have to be completely honest and say that I did not read the book. I actually had no idea what the story was about until I heard it was becoming a movie. When Maria and I got the invite to see a screening of the movie I was actually quite excited. One, I got to share the experience with my cousin, Maria, since I know how much she loves this book. I was so blown away by the movie that I actually purchased a copy of the book and have been reading it slowly. I say slowly because it is such a touching story that with each chapter I remember the movie and get very emotional.

I loved everything about The Book Thief film and wish I had read the book before seeing the movie. I was taken by surprise by everything and even cried a little. The movie starts off sad and ends on a happy note, but very emotional. It's a moving story that will forever touch your heart. It did mine and I will be seeing the movie again.

There really isn't much more I can say besides that the movie is worth seeing. I cannot wait to finish reading the book so that I can compare it all to the movie the next time I see it.

Watch the Official Film Trailer!

Twentieth Century Fox
The Book Thief
Sophie NĂ©lisse, Emily Watson & Geoffrey Rush
October 28, 2013


Sophie NĂ©lisse: When I auditioned, I didn't think at all I would get the part because, first of all, I was doing gymnastics, and my goal was to go to the Olympics. So when I auditioned, I just really auditioned for fun and really tried just to know what it'd be like to audition for an American movie.

And then when I got the part, I was just so happy, but at the same time, I was stressed, because if my performance is not good, then maybe the movie is not going to be as good.

My friends were like, well, this is a huge part, you have to take the part. And it's fun, but, at the same time, it's a bit stressful. Geoffrey helped me a lot.

I did my first audition, and I hadn't even read the script. And then, going to my second audition in LA, I read the script on the plane. For the first time, I cried in the script.

I started to read the first 20 pages of the book. I was about there in French, and I stopped because I got the part. And then, about a month ago, I started to read it again, but in English. I loved it, but it's hard to say because I've already watched the movie, so when I was reading the book, it's like if I was reading the movie, more like a documentary of the whole shooting.


Brian Percival (Director): It was always key to the whole thing. We’ve all had different moments in our life where we've sort of been touched by death in some way or another, at least through a relative or a friend or our own lives. And so that was so key because it's a universal thing. It's gonna happen to all of us. That's what was the key to the whole thing.

Of course, we had to love Liesel, and we had to fall for Liesel and go with her on her journey. But the perspective of death is so important.

What I didn't want to do is to constantly use his voice throughout the film because I wanted the audience to get lost with the characters and their story: Liesel's story and Max and Rudy and Hans and all those different characters. But we are reminded of it. I don't know, five or six times throughout the script, he comes back.

The device that I came up with to try and solve that problem was that, quite often, I think you'll see that there are scenes which are shot from above or shot from quite high, and so that was a way that I figured I could remind an audience that we're seeing this from another perspective, another entity that we feel somehow. He comes from above because he starts in the clouds and goes down to earth to visit these lives, ordinary human lives, and then goes back up.

And so that was a way to almost subconsciously make the viewer feel that they were seeing these little lives from another perspective without introducing the voice every five or ten minutes.

Karen Rosenthal (Producer): It was a wonderful way to integrate death naturally into the story without using a narrative device. Because we want to reach as broad of a family audience as possible, we didn't want--you know, voiceover tends to be distancing and can--

Brian Percival: --take you out of the film.

Karen Rosenthal: Yes, younger audience members can be taken out of the film. There's a real magical realism to Marcus' writing that we wanted to capture in the tone and also make sure that there's enough there so that the parent takes something away from this experience that may be somewhat different than the youngest audience member so that the telling of the film can work on levels.

I think that was important to Brian, Ken and myself.

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