Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief is a novel that I’ve heard much about since it was published in 2008. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Though there have been some quibbles here and there, almost every opinion I’ve seen raves about this novel. Despite the many commendations, it’s something I had planned to read, but hadn’t yet read. I was definitely interested in seeing the movie, and it couldn’t have been more perfect when I also got to meet some of the cast and filmmakers after a screening I attended courtesy of Big Honcho Media.
The movie is beautiful. I probably cried on and off through half of it. I was that girl in the screening room with ALL THE TISSUES. Without even having read the book, I felt in my heart that the filmmakers, cast and crew had done an excellent job with adapting this beautiful story, and Alison (Alison’s Bookmarks) was able to confirm that for me right away. Even further confirmation came as I read the novel in the weekend after screening the film and before meeting the cast.
Much has been written about the Holocaust, and continues to be written about it, so it can be tempting to think that you have covered the gamut of books to be read. It’s a subject where I selectively choose books so that I am learning something new, or uncovering a new aspect I haven’t thought about before. I was particularly interested in what the actors had to say about sources they relied on in creating such a touching experience in the film, and the information they received which informed their views of the book, script, and their won roles. Here are a few tidbits from the roundtable discussion Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse.
Geoffrey Rush (Hans)
On playing Hans:
I thought this would be a real challenge for me. And in and around that, I just adored the story and the perspective of looking at that horror scenario in Germany during the Second World War through the eyes of a very small country town, the community of a country town and a young girl.
On the changes in Germany during the time in the film:
My starting point was that this is a film about a community on a street. When I read the book and read the screenplay, it was so intrinsically the culture of Southern Germany. But it could also be an Outback town in Queensland. It could be a small town in the Midwest.
And you see incrementally the escalation from Hitler ascending to the chancellorship through a democratic process and within a year declaring himself to be Fuhrer, and we’re dealing with a country at the height of the worst depression, and they lost the First World War, so they were in a state of disrepair there.
A huge amount of people would have been seeking a Messiah, and some people would have really gone along with that because it reinstated their faith in German heritage. Let’s not forget, it has a huge literary, philosophical, musical, rich background, Jewish and German. You know what I mean. And it kind of went really out the window.
Emily Watson (Rosa)
On talking to residents of Berlin during filming:
That moment in history is incredibly current still in Berlin. They’re still rebuilding and surviving it, because after the war, their city was split, and then it’s still massively in their consciousness that they are recovering from that.
But it’s incredibly honest. They’re not covering it up. Everywhere you go, there’s an exhibit about how many people died on this spot, and it was relentless, really. You can’t get away from it. But also being surrounded by people whose families all were there. You can’t really say, oh, thanks for the coffee, were your grandparents Nazis? It was a really weird etiquette of not knowing how to talk to people and ask people.
On German attendance at a Hitler rally:
One thing I found really telling was that photograph, and I can’t remember where I saw it, but it was somewhere in an exhibit, of one of the rallies where there were something like 2.5 million people. And that’s kind of everybody, isn’t it? It’s just they all went, they all went. Everybody signed up. And that just tells you, you bought into it or you had to buy into it.
Sophie Nelisse (Liesl)
On preparing for her role:
I read a book called Hana’s Suitcase when I was in sixth grade, but that’s the only thing I knew. To know what happened in that period, I had to watch a lot of movies like Schindler’s List, The Reader, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and also The Pianist. When I was in Berlin, I went to see some bomb shelters or some historical things like the Berlin Wall.
I think it was so fun shooting in Berlin because you could go on set, and all the background was just so amazing and so true. You could really feel like you were there years ago, and when you were done shooting, you would just get out and be in this completely new city. It was just so awesome to pass from Berlin to being on set. It’s a bit weird, but it’s fun at the same time.
On aging from 10 to 16:
I just knew that I could play my character over six years because when you’re old–not when you’re old, but, you know, like Geoffrey, in six years, he won’t really change. I mean, his face and everything.
I could do like these little changes, the hair goes longer, change the dresses. And he was always dressed the same, had the same hair. So, that was fun.
If you are thinking of going to the movies this weekend, I highly recommend catching The Book Thief. You won’t be sorry.
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