The Book Thief (2013) Will Steal Your Heart

The Book Thief (2013), directed by Brian Percival and based on the acclaimed novel by Markus Zusak, is now one of my top 20 favorite films.  I once again broke my own rule and watched a movie before reading the book, but in this case I think perhaps that is a good thing because OH MY GOSH what a sob-fest.  I suppose I should mention that I have a morbid fascination with anything to do with the Holocaust.  That said, it all makes me cry like a little girl.x  This was no exception.  So, DISCLAIMER: do not watch unless you are in need of some serious catharsis, or if you’re emo, or perhaps you have a heart of stone and just don’t cry in movies.  Do not, under any circumstances, view it without waterproof mascara.

Why is it so darn heart wrenching, you ask?  It tells the story of young Liesel (played by the marvelous Sophie Nelisse), a girl who is adopted by Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) in 1939.  She has just lost her brother on the journey to them, and is justifiably shell shocked.  Rosa’s brisk, no nonsense manner terrifies her, but Hans makes up for it with his soft, warm-hearted ways.  When he discovers that the poor girl is illiterate, he helps her read the little book she has with her, which she stole from the grave digger who buried her brother (because she’s a “book thief”, get it??).  After that, he creates a “dictionary” on the walls of their basement, for her to fill with the new words she comes across.  Soon, Hans, Rosa, and little Rudy, the neighbor boy who is in love with her, burrow their way into her heart, as well as Ilsa Hermann, the Buergmeister’s wife who shares Liesel’s love of books.  The film takes place in Nazi-occupied Germany, when certain books are banned, but that does not stop the fiery and courageous Liesel.  When a young Jewish man, Max, shows up at their door one night, and is taken in by the family and hidden in the dictionary basement, Liesel begins to borrow books from the Buergmeister’s house to read to him during his captivity.

Still not convinced that it sounds worthy of a good, hearty, 2 hour long cry?  Take care to remember that it takes place in NAZI GERMANY.  There is death EVERYWHERE.  I won’t say who or when, but people die.  A lot of them.  It’s very sad.  Trust me.  On the bright side, there are plenty of instances that renew your faith in humanity, too.  Which also makes me cry….so there you go.  Mascara all down my face, my hair glued to my cheek from where those dumb tears dried, eyes swollen and nose clogged.  It was that kind of movie.  But props to the German gentleman in the seat in front of me who turned around at the end and said, completely unprovoked, “Yes, dear, that was a VERY good movie,” before he stood up and left without another word. 

On a critical note, the plot was easy to follow and was entirely sensible, with just a touch of the fantastic thrown in.  The characters were likeable and acted to perfection.  The cinematography was BEAUTIFUL.  The soundtrack by John Williams definitely deserves its Oscar nomination.  Basically, I have zero complaints with the movie.  It gets an A+.  Why it was only nominated for its score is beyond me.

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Netflix Find: Quills

This one has been in my queue for a while. Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, pre-weird Joaquin Phoenix and the always amazing Michael Caine—plus it’s a period piece—how could it not be amazing? It came out in 2000, which, considering the topic, explains why I had to discover this one on Netflix (I wasn’t even to double digits yet!). The movie is set in 18th century France (if you know your French history this is during the Revolution, specifically Napoleon’s reign—he makes an appearance).  The Marquis de Sade (Rush), an aristocrat and writer, resides in the asylum Charenton; the young laundress Madeline (Winslet) smuggles out the Marquis’s scandalous writings based on his libertine (unrestrained by morals) sexual fantasies. Trust me, they get pretty outrageous, after-all “Sade” is the basis for the words “sadist” and “sadism.” The Abbe du Coulmier (Phoenix) is seen as unable to control the Marquis, who obsessively producing and secretly publishes story after story. Dr. Royer-Collard (Caine), the exact type of doctor that gave rise to the torture treatments most people think of, is sent to Charenton to help get the asylum, and specifically the Marquis, under control.

This movie is certainly not for everyone. There’s language, nudity, sex and lots of talk about sex, rape, necromancy, sodomy, and on and on. But the characterization of the Marquis is the great storyline of the film. His stories are so wrong, not just erotic but wrong, and he seems to not care much for anyone. Anyone, that is, except Madeline; though he also doesn’t treat her with much respect. His view of humanity, in general and his own, is dark, reflected in the darkness in his fantasies. These fantasies, in the end, lead to tragic consequences for all involved. On a side note, the film provides a look at mental illness and sexuality, two topics that we, as a society, avoid at almost all costs. And as if all this isn’t enough we see different sides of love between the Doctor and his young, convent-raised bride, the same girl and the architect her husband hires and, most importantly, the chaste Abbe and the lovely Maddie. There’s a whole lot of loving go on to say the least and it’s fantastic.

As I said I’m a sucker for period pieces but this one is so different and unexpected—though apparently not very historically correct— I wish I would’ve seen it sooner. It’s available on Netflix right now. If you’re not convinced, or are just curious, check out the trailer: