A story of survival

A powerful narrative follows the life of a young girl during the Holocaust

Sophie Nélisse and Ben Schnetzer bond in the basement, a place of protection from the Nazi regime.
Sophie Nélisse and Ben Schnetzer bond in the basement, a place of protection from the Nazi regime.
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The Book Thief, playing at the Screening Room starting Friday, offers a precious piece of humanity within the film’s delicately interwoven relationships.

After her brother passes away during transit, Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is left alone to start her new orphan life in a small German town, raised by foster parents.

With only a photo of her brother and a gravedigger’s handbook, Liesel has few possessions to remind her of her former life.

The visually-powerful landscape of the cold, bleary countryside conveys a sense of foreboding death. It’s fitting then that death acts as the omniscient narrator.

Her foster parents initially appear as polar opposites. Hans (Geoffrey Rush) is a caring father and Rosa (Emily Watson) as a cruel mother. Despite this difference, they both express genuine love for Liesel, through expanding her vocabulary and not punishing her when she stole a book.

Both adoptive parents sustain a convincing performance through sincerity and connection.

The film, adapted from Markus Zusak’s 2006 bestselling novel, moves at a beautiful and natural pace. Director Brian Percival, best known for Downton Abbey, artfully communicates one girl’s survival of the Holocaust experience.

Liesel’s progression from a quiet illiterate girl to an inquisitive, well-read one creates a mesmerizing narrative of one child’s sense of isolation and trauma. The movie gets its name from the way in which books, “borrowed” from the General’s house, signifies an escape from harsh realities. Delicate and touching is the bond formed between Jewish refugee Max (Ben Schnetzer) and Liesel, as Hans and Rosa offer him protection by hiding him in their basement.

Significant events, like book burning and Kristallnacht juxtaposed against childlike faces, dressed in their Hitler Youth uniforms provides one of the film’s most powerful images.

Rudy (Nico Liersch) persists in befriending Liesel and becomes her crutch of companionship. Over time, their bond strengthens — trust and secrets become the fabric of their friendship.

Combined together, these moments evoke an uncanny, reeling reaction to the perpetual violence seen in the film.

The Book Thief confronts the fact that even the youngest must face the most atrocious social realities during war, all while artfully showcasing the vulnerability and resilience of humanity.

The Book Thief will be playing at the Screening Room on Princess St. from Jan. 17 to 26. Specific showtimes can be found at: http://www.moviesinkingston.com/calendar.html.

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