A pre-teen girl, Liesel Menninger (the extraordinary Sophie Nelisse) is handed off by her mother, who no longer can care for her , to a middle-aged couple. The time is pre-Kristallnacht Germany, 1938.
Her foster home is simple and impoverished. Her foreboding foster mother, Rosa Hubermann (the extraordinary Emily Watson) shows little affection, at first, for the frightened girl. But the irascible father Hans (the endearing Geoffrey Rush) comforts the shy twelve-year old with magical and fanciful allusions to literature and music, playing his accordion and composing songs just for her.
Liesel soon adapts to her intimidating environment. Her foster father teaches her to read and to find comfort in books, even though the only book she has is one that had dropped in the snow. Soon she begins stealing books and, even hiding them, when Kristallnacht’s infamous night happens.
This movie is hauntingly beautiful, but moves at a pace that , at times, is slow. Moreover, the ending is anti-climactic. But the performances are startling and award-worthy. Based on a novel, commenting on the inhumanity of Nazi Germany, “The Book Thief” is a graceful tale of one small soul fighting to make sense of her world, questioning its cruelty, and seizing independence. Liesel is determined to find a way of being “normal” in a world of unspeakable horror.
Above all, “The Book Thief” is a love story: of friendship, love of integrity, love of the written word, with the feel of a fable or children’s tale, a dreamy sort of look at the life books open to the eyes of a child. A must-see. Rent it on Netflix, which has just released it!