The Book Thief is a stirring adaptation of the best selling novel by Australian author Markus Zusak, which tells the story of a young girl, Liesel, and her adopted family in Nazi Germany during the time of World War II.
Despite being technically a fiction, much of the book is based on real life stories from the war, with a significant part of the research being undertaken at Sydney’s own Jewish Museum.
Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse), has been put up for adaption by her mother who can no longer look after her, and is taken in by adoring father Hans Hubermann, played by the delightful Geoffrey Rush, and his cold-hearted wife Rosa, brilliantly played by Emily Watson.
Narrated by Death, the film follows Liesel’s relationship with her new family, the other residents of their neighbourhood, including her new best friend Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch), and a young Jewish man, Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer), who they hide in their basement during the escalation of the war.
One of major turning points in the film is when Liesel is taught to read by Hans, and soon develops a strong passion for words and books. At a Nazi book burning ceremony, she ‘borrows’ a book that survived the fire and takes it home. She is seen by Ilsa Hermann, the mayor’s wife, who admires her courage and allows her to visit her magnificent library and read its contents. The mayor eventually catches Liesel in the house and throws her out, forcing her to start ‘borrowing’ books from Ilsa’s library and taking them home, hence the title The Book Thief.
It’s these books that grow Liesel’s imagination and when prompted by Max, encourage her to write her own stories, which you later see is the starting point from which she will become a world-famous author.
Despite the dark and chilling setting for the film, what really stands out is the warmth and heartfelt interaction between Liesel and the cast of characters, primarily Hans, Rudy and Max when he is locked away in the basement with just Liesel’s reading to keep him alive.
At 130 minutes, the film is a little longer than it probably needs to be, however its length does help to develop the characters to a point that you begin to know and love them. The Book Thief is a beautifully made, moving film that offers something a little different to your usual war flick.
The Book Thief is released nationally on 9 January.