Having read reviews of this film suggesting its viewing should be accompanied by a box of Kleenex, I promised myself from the outset that I would simply not cry over this one. (I have a reputation for being somewhat emotional, even when just watching TV adverts.) However, my resolve went out of the window as, after having now seen said film at my local cinema last night, I came away desperately dabbing at my eyes in the hope that my economy mascara had not smudged too badly. For it is indeed an emotional film. It is also quite an unusual one in that it mixes the abstract with intense drama. I have not read the book (though I fully intend to now) but understand that it has a much more ethereal quality about it. Thus, it would have been difficult to reproduce that on the screen, other than in limited amounts. Therefore the film starts, and is infrequently returned to, narration by a storyteller who is in fact `death' personified. And this, along with spectacular cinematography, helps to give it a kind of misty-eyed, almost magical feel.
The subject matter, however, is far from that. The viewer is shown the harsh realities of life in Nazi-rising WW11 Germany. And, it's quite a shock actually to discover that they, like us Brits, were just as scared, just as poverty-stricken and just as much at the mercy of the Hitler-led regime. Young Sophie Nelisse, the actress in the lead-role of Liesel, lends a wide-eyed innocence to the whole proceedings and is well supported by a talented Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson in the roles of her adoptive parents, who take her on (for money ) when she is removed from her own communist mother's care. Harbouring a young Jewish man, Max, is the centre of the story and it is Liesel's relationship with all three of the afore-mentioned, and a neighbouring school friend, Rudy, that fuel it.
Having arrived illiterate, Liesel is taught to read and write by `Papa' Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush), whose patience, kindness and humour are ever to the fore, and which contrast sharply with the "thunder storm" (Liesel's words) that is his wife, Rosa (Emily Watson) - who actually is not quite as formidable as she might at first seem. Liesel's quest for books, reading, and words in general, is further aided by Max's enthusiasm for such. He relies on her to keep him informed of the world, as his view is somewhat marred by being kept in the dark, cold basement of the house, unable to see the light of day. Liesel's hunger for books is both sated and increased when the local Mayor's wife allows her access to the mayorial household library - from where she later `borrows' the odd tome after creeping in uninvited. (She insists she is not a "thief" - as the film's title would suggest!)
I will not spoil the plotline for those who have not yet seen this little gem of a movie, suffice to say that, as mentioned in the book's 'blurb' I believe, "death visits Liesel three times". She certainly grows up quickly and, like so many of that era, witnesses things that young eyes should really not see. But it is how she, and those around her, cope with adversity that is central to this film, where hatred and morality vie for places, and where neighbour is turned against neighbour and fear and suspicion are the order of the day. Surviving can only make one stronger and there are some surprising twists that develop in that very plot-line; fate can indeed be teasingly, and often ironically, fickle.
I hope this film gets the appreciation (and awards) it deserves as it is beautifully scripted, sensitively directed, superbly acted and tantalising to watch (I didn't even notice that two and a half hours had passed.) The sadness and sheer stupidity of fascism at its height is off-set by the realisation of the strength of the human spirit to transcend such darkness. In the end, I was left feeling sad (in that sort of deeply moved way that only a great cinematic experience seems to evoke) yet also inspired and uplifted.