|In theaters November 15|
Based on the beloved bestselling book, THE BOOK THIEF tells the inspirational story of a spirited and courageous young girl who transforms the lives of everyone around her when she is sent to live with a new family in World War II Germany.
Starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse, Ben Schnetzer, Nico Liersch
Directed by Brian Percival
Produced by Karen Rosenfelt, Ken Blancato
Screenplay by Michael Petroni, based upon the novel by Markus Zusak
If you live outside the US, make sure you scroll all the way down and fill out the Rafflecopter widget to win a paperback copy of The Book Thief!
I recently had the privilege of meeting the author of The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, as well as the director, Brian Percival (Downton Abbey), who brought it to the big screen. Since the book was published in Australia in 2005 (2006 in the US), it has been on the New York Times Best Seller list on and off for 7 years, has garnered numerous awards, and has sold over 9 million copies in thirty languages all over the world. The film adaptation opens in wide release in the United States on November 15, 2013.
The screenplay, penned by Michael Petroni (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) had been in existence for some time. Percival told us how he came to be involved with The Book Thief:
I was in the right place at the right time. I read the screenplay, and I’d never ever read anything like it. I wasn’t--shamefully--I wasn’t aware of the book. I stayed up really late. I was shooting something else, and I stayed up really late one night and then finished at 1:30 in the morning and just e-mailed off to Los Angeles and said, “You know, if I don’t do anything else in my life, I’ve got to make this film.”
|Sophie Nélisse as Liesel Meminger|
Part of the hold-up was the casting of Liesel, the titular Book Thief. Over 1,000 audition tapes were considered before they settled on newcomer Sophie Nélisse. Zusak had seen her in the film Monsieur Lazhar, and mentioned her as a possible candidate. Percival talked about watching her audition:
It was on an iPhone or something. Really--it was really basic... I remember getting it downloaded and seeing it, and it was like she was in her backyard in Montreal somewhere and there was just something about this kid that was like, “Wow, she had this spirit.” Funny, you know, she reminded me of a very young Madonna, because there was this--you know, she jumps out of the screen at you as a twelve year old.
|Rudy (Nico Liersch) and Mama (Emily Watson) listen to Liesel's story|
Asked whether the intent of the period piece was to make younger people aware of Nazi Germany, Zusak spoke about the intent of the project from his point of view as the book's author. He remarked upon how the book came to life when he let go of his trepidations about how the audience would accept it, and just wrote what he wanted to write about. Zusak quipped:
I thought this would be my least successful book because I imagined people... I imagined maybe someone liking it and then trying to convince one of their friends to read it, and the friend says, “What’s it about?” And, you know, what do you do? You’ve got to say, “Well, it’s set in Nazi Germany. It’s narrated by Death. Everybody dies, and it’s 580 pages long. You’ll love it.”
Percival first talked about how he approached Sophie with the research she had to do for her role.
I gave her a list of things to read and things to watch from that era so that she knew about it because I find that, particularly teenagers, you don’t really tell them what to do. It’s best that they find out for themselves. You can suggest things, but don’t say, “Do this. Do that.” Forget it, you’re on a losing streak straight away.
|The Book Thief breaks in|
While banking on the modern teen's tendency to investigate things they may find unfamiliar, Percival also talked about the tone and focus of the film:
If I’d made a Holocaust movie, which was never the intention, probably a generation of kids would not go and see it, because they’d say, well, what Markus says about the book... But if they’re drawn to a story about positivity and human nature and the human spirit and watch that and take something away from it and learn something... then I sort of feel like I’ve done my job in bringing that to a wider audience.
In the film, Percival contrasts so many elements to bring about emotional responses: Liesel singing an anti-Semitic song in an angelic choir and bombs falling to beautiful music (the music is scored by John Williams, in a rare break from scoring Steven Spielberg's films). He also spoke about how they filmed the book-burning scene, where the town square is festooned in swastikas and the townspeople fervently sing "Deutschlandlied", both elements banned in Germany since 1946. There were about 450 extras, and an almost all-German crew, with tears running down their faces:
I asked them to sing it with as much belief and pride as they could, if that makes sense. It’s a horrible thing to ask, but for me to convey a reality that’s what we had to do, because that’s what the people did at the time... That was really quite touching, quite an emotional moment because... these people had been born in the ‘70s. Well, how can you hold them responsible for something? But, they felt that guilt for what their nation had been responsible for.
I hope The Book Thief will move you whether you watch it or read it, as it has myself and so many others.
You can find out more about it at the official website: www.thebookthiefmovie.com
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