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Non-Review Review: The Book Thief

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

Any film set in Germany between 1938 and 1945 narrated by death itself is going to feel a little… surreal. As wonderful as Roger Allam’s tones might be, there’s something decidedly unwholesome about the narration of the story told from the perspective of the Grim Reaper, particularly as he recounts a story from his “best of” collection.

The implication is that the life of the eponymous booklifter has touched the Death itself, which feels rather uncomfortable in the context of Nazi Germany. One would imagine that there would be quite a lot of moving and affecting stories to hold our narrator’s attention, without a need to single out one particular story as especially moving.

This is, in essence, the heart of the problem with The Book Thief, an efficient and well-produced – if condescending and tone-deaf – family film exploring the story of one family living in the shadow of Hitler’s Germany. It spends far too long telling us why these protagonists are unique, when the crux of the story seems to be that they are not.

Book her, boys!

She has no shelf-control…

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Going Nutz Over Nazis…

Ah, Nazis. The most typical of Hollywood villains. It seems that whenever you want the audience to cheer at what your morally ambiguous hero is up to, just stick his opponent in a Nazi uniform and you can guaruntee that the viewers will know which side they’re on. It used to be in the old days that simply putting a villain in a Nazi uniform was a regular past time for any big director. You didn’t need characterisation or complexity. If they’re German between 1941 and 1945, they’re a bad guy. Well, at least that used to be the way. In recent years it seems that we have accepted that things may be slightly more complex than those black and grey uniforms that they wore. There are many shades. So much so that the ‘thoughtful Nazi flick’ has pretty much become guarunteed Oscar bait. Given the minor furore which surrounded the release of Inglourious Basterds, is the time of the one-dimensional cardboard cutout passed into history? And has political correctness gone too far?

Don't make a song and dance about it...

Don't make a song and dance about it...

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