One of the things I vividly remember my father saying years ago was that you don’t know what freedom is unless you’ve heard the knock on your door in the middle of the night. He would know since he escaped the Nazis after they took over his native Austria in 1938. Whenever I see a movie of that era I’m reminded how fortunate we are today and how we should never forget the tyranny of the Nazis.
Among the many new DVDs in our collection is one that focuses on that time period but doesn’t immediately jump out at you. “The Book Thief” didn’t get a lot of advance publicity. It debuted at the Mill Valley Film Festival which helps explain why it flew under the radar. How many people have even heard of Mill Valley besides fans of the old Doris Day TV show? This film, however, is a keeper.
“The Book Thief” is based on the best-selling novel. It’s a coming-of-age story of a young girl in Nazi Germany as World War II descends upon us. We witness all the ugliness of the Nazi regime and the horror inflicted on the Jews. One difference from other films of this genre is the brutality is not shown in a blatantly overt fashion. It’s impossible to miss however.
The film begins with the protagonist, a young girl named Liesel, riding on a train in 1938 Germany with her mother and brother on their way to be given up for adoption. Liesel’s mother is a communist and knows the kids would be in danger if they stay with her.
Liesel’s bother suddenly dies on the train and she is left alone to be dropped off with her new step-parents. Her new step-mother, Rosa, initially comes off as a cruel, unfeeling tyrant but her step-father, Hans, clearly has a kind heart. Liesel is immediately befriended by the boy who lives next door, Rudy, and the two of them develop a close relationship.