Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Review

I've been crying a lot lately. Yeah, I know. Imagine that big beardy face (although you have to replace the brown hair for blonde and the beard is noticeably shorter) pissing tears from the eyeballs. Well whilst watching Wall-E, I've been having a good cry. Whilst reading the double whammy of The Time Travellers Wife and The Lovely Bones, I've been having a good cry. Listening to Joni Mitchell, having a good cry. Surely a movie about a childs view of the Holocaust was bound to open the tear ducts. Surely?

8-year old Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is the son of a high ranking Nazi official (David Thewlis). When his family moves from Berlin to a house in the country overlooking an unnamed concentration camp, Bruno gets lonely. Banned from venturing to the back of the house where he may come into contact with the imprisoned Jews, Bruno does just that. There he makes friends with Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a boy the same age, with the same childhood interests, just sitting on the wrong side of the fence.

You can see a million films about the Holocaust and yet every shot of a malnourished, fragile body dressed in black and white stripes or chimney billowing smoke will still send a shiver down your spine. Using a childs eyes to shoot this vicious hatred is a novel approach but not without its faults. The biggest fault of all is the shifting of focus from one of histories greatest atrocities to the trials and tribulations of just one child. Yes, the ending is a kicker of the highest order but the way the film is put together makes the sympathy lie only with one instead of the millions. Young and old alike.

The 'innocence lost' strand of the film is never fully acknowledged, for Bruno doesn't get to see what his father is capable of, until he experiences it too late. Instead it is left to Vera Farmiga, as the mother, who gets to voice the horrors in a sadly underwritten role. As for the clipped British tones instead of thick badly spoken German accents its certainly preferable, but why not subtitle the dialogue if authenticity is as high on the agenda as it seems to be? Its all these things that make The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas too flawed to belong in the company of truly great, not movies, but lessons about the hatred of one group for another. And they're also the reasons I didn't well up, even once.

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