Synopsis: Set during World War II in Nazi Germany the story opens with a young girl Liesel travelling on a train with her mother and brother. Her brother passes while aboard and they stop to bury him along the tracks. One of the gravediggers drops his book while shoveling and Liesel retrieves it. Although she cannot read, she stuffs the book within her coat. Next we find that Liesel’s mother cannot care for her as she rides in a car to the home of her new adoptive parents who were hoping to care for both the children in return for payment.
Liesel’s new mother is shrewd and harsh, but her father Hans, played by Geoffery Rush, is compassionate and playful. Liesel begins to adapt to the new world around her, forming a friendship with a young boy, Rudy and growing closer to her father as he teaches her how to read. Amidst the Nazi uniforms and propaganda Liesel finds solace in the world of books.
However it isn’t long until fear increases within the town as people are torn from their homes and Nazi loyalty is questioned. In addition, Liesel and her family’s vulnerability grows when they take in a Jewish boy, Max. Hidden within the home, Liesel develops a close friendship with Max who encourages her to read and write. The family cares for the boy while trying to avoid his detection by Nazi troops.
Review: While most films set in World War II focus mainly on the war and its horrors, this film focuses on the lives of a family and a town. I found A Book Thief to be a refreshing take on a family’s experience during World War II and a moving portrayal of human connection and humanity as a whole.
We see the inner conflict of many of the films characters including Liesel, her parents, Rudy, and a German official’s wife regarding the war. Hans, Liesel’s father witnesses a neighbor get dragged from his home by German officers and stands up for him only to be beaten over the head. Rudy, the white blonde, blue eyed boy covers himself in mud and runs around a track imitating the African American runner Jessie Owens only to be disciplined for doing so. Ilsa, a German official’s wife finds the burning of books troublesome and secretly creates a friendship with Liesel whom she spends time with in her library.
Among all these relationships, the one between Liesel and Max is the most heartfelt. They both seem to keep the other one going. Liesel brings hope and life to Max’s world within the basement, bringing him outside objects, books, and one night buckets of snow to make a snowman. In return Max encourages and helps her to develop her writing skills, even painting over one of his books to create a Christmas gift for Liesel to write in.
This is a movie about survival and sacrifice, humanity and connections that knows no bounds. Well written and inspiring till the very end.