The Book Thief marks the first American feature for Quebec native Sophie Nélisse, who turned thirteen during the filming. “I just really loved that I could play my character at at 10 years old and I could play her every year, even 16,” says Nélisse. Forced to leave her home, Nelisse’s character’s arrives into a new family, and the story centers on the bond that occurs between her and her father figure in the new family (Geoffrey Rush). “My city had never been bombed, so this was sort of new territory for me,” she says.
It was clear that the devastating events of World War II were not forgotten throughout the production. “It was really quite emotional. A number of the German crew were shedding tears of shame,” says Percival.
“When I have a dream, I won’t give up,” Nélisse says when asked if she possesses any similarities to her character. She tells us how she studied her character by becoming a literal “book thief,” stealing two books from a store outside her hotel (the books were paid for later). And one highlight of her experience was when Geoffrey Rush bought her a live koala bear from Australia. “I wanted to explore why ordinary people do the things that they do,” says Percival, who calls it a story of humanity. “They should take away the positivity of the human spirit, I think.”
The Book Thief was one of the most impactful films we have ever seen. The story is a rare mix of heartbreaking and heartwarming, and caused a lot of tears in the audience. After the first half hour we suddenly found ourselves incredibly invested in the characters’ lives and even felt like we knew them, which made their struggles much more personal. The actors’ performances, especially Sophie Nelisse’s as Liesel were incredibly believable, making the story even more accessible.
After studying WWII in school from the American perspective, it was an eye-opening experience to see it from the perspective of normal, kind, German civilians who opposed Hitler’s regime. The film shows the humanity that was present in a time full of atrocity.
Though it may be difficult to watch due to the heavy nature of the content, the lightness brought to the screen by the warmness of the characters and the humor of many scenes makes the heartache worth it. It is a film about family and love, not just loss and war. We recommend this film for all ages because despite its classification as a period film—it is a timeless story.