Wednesday 26 February 2014


Gott im Himmel!!!
Every once in a while I see a film which so riles me as to render me practically speechless, not wishing to expend the energy required in collecting a few words together and write about it. But, as I owe it to my faithful readers to produce an opinion, here goes with an attempt.

I ought to say at the outset that this is only a very personal reaction  For all I know the film (director, one Brian Percival) could well be a masterpiece. (Heh heh!)

I'd already sat through the trailer several times over recent days, aware that it is based on a famed book (unread by me), and had got the idea that it was going to be about a spirited young girl stealing books and reading them to a young Jewish man secreted away from the clutches of those dastardly Nazis in some hidey-hole, while she outwits the entire Third Reich machine (the plucky little thing!). Well, it turned out to be not quite that - yet much worse.  

Ach, Scheisse! Where do I start?

It's Deutschland 1938. Kristallnacht is the latest in the unfolding saga of horrors. Everyone, adults and children alike, speaks in English with thick, cartoonish, cod-German accents which would not have been out of place in a Monty Python sketch. And just so we don't forget where we are, despite swastika flags and pennants all over the damn place, conversations have to be littered with words and expressions like "Dummkopf!", "Schnell!", "Was ist los?" u.s.w. - as well as "Ja" and "Nein" being the obligatory rejoinders.

The film wastes no time in establishing its credentials as a 'weepie'. Within the very first few minutes the girl's younger brother dies in his mother's arms, even as they're being taken to live with foster parents, Geoffrey Rush (all avuncular sympathy, sweetness and understanding - complete with accordian) and Emily Watson (cold, austere, humourless and forbidding). The girl (Sophie Nelisse) befriends a blond-haired boy of similar age (as Aryan-looking as Der Fuhrer himself could have wished) and they hang around together, though she finds herself having to withhold from him the secret that her foster parents have taken in a young Jew, hiding in their basement. She starts out (strangely?) as completely illiterate, but thanks to her kindly foster-Vater she makes massive strides in a short time and before you can say "Gesundheit!" she's reading H.G.Wells to the refugee from a book she's rescued from a public bonfire of  'degenerate' works, to the strains of (would you believe it?) 'Deutschland Uber Alles' from a brown-shirted youth choir and its approving audience. Books also feature a little more when, during her delivery of her mother's laundry services to a wealthy German couple, she is allowed freedom to browse in their large library.

The film takes events up to 1944 and the arrival of the American army in the Fatherland. But I do hope you'll still have your hankies at the ready because you're going to need them for the tearful finish. (There is, in addition, a tiny epilogue for those who've felt inclined to stay). I'd been willing the blasted thing to just get over and done with since a good half hour before the close - or even from a few minutes after the start.

Don't ask me what these points are for but I'm going to give this a resounding................2.


  1. le sigh. I was going to see this. I have also seen the trailers. I think I will wait for this to go to tv. 2 is very poor.

    What about the grand Budapest hotel. I actually really want to see that

    1. Mine is only one person's opinion, Sol. The current average rating on IMDb is over 7. Do go if you want to. Everyone's points of irritation is different.

      I was also looking forward to 'Budapest' - and still am, in a way. It looks great from the trailer, though Wes Anderson's films up to now, have been very much a mixed bag for me. In the light of one or two reviews (as well as having been told it was actually made in Germany) I've turned a bit more circumspect, but see it I shall.

  2. Not sure I whether I will like this when I eventually see it but good for you for a candid review. It is very difficult to express a negative opinion about anything that touches the holocaust as if sensitivity about the topic automatically confers quality on the outcome. Ellen joked about that topic in her Oscar opening monoglog last night. 'Will 12 Years A Slave win best picture?... or are you all racists?

    1. Well, reflecting the book (so I hear), it's from the young girl's point of view, H.K. so in that respect it's a somewhat anodyne perspective of the war. But that didn't make it any easier for me, lacking the acerbity one might expect.
      There was also the perplexing aspect of the voice of 'Death' which is heard only at the start of the film then not again until the very end, by which time we'd forgotten about it. Odd - and it seemed more like an imposition that got in the way rather than anything profound as, I assume, it was supposed to be.
      Yes, anything about the Holocaust automatically confers a kind of worthiness in the book, film or whatever. Of course any reasonable person would share the sentiments of revulsion but there's also an expectation on how it will be treated, and anything that falls short of that becomes, rightly or wrongly, suspect.