Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: not child's play

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is the latest and least satisfying of the recent films about Nazi Germany and the Final Solution. After The Reader and Good we have a child’s take on the Third Reich and the Holocaust. It’s the story of eight year old Bruno who befriends Shmuel, a Jewish boy of his own age. The drama comes from three elements: his father is the concentration commandant, his grandmother is anti-Nazi and the friend is a camp inmate.

The best aspect of this movie is Asa Butterfield’s performance as Bruno. He manages to carry off the unlikely naiveté like a mature professional. In contrast Jack Scanlon who plays Shmuel, is less convincing and seems less comfortable in his role.

This applies even more to David Thewlis as the father. He displays an intellectual commitment to the Nazi ideology but little of the emotion and fire that you would expect to go with it. The rest of the SS officers and his zealous father (Richard Johnson) are stereotypes without any character development. The exception is Rupert friend as Lt. Kotler who has family conflicts of his own.

Bruno’s twelve year old sister Gretel is played competently by Amber Beattie. Her extreme infatuation with the Reich and its macho men in uniform dims as her parents’ relationship sours.

Director Mark Herman has given us another pedestrian re-creation of the world inside and outside the camps. The cold, stark architecture of their national socialist home symbolises this monster regime. Like much of the film it is clichéd. The contrived plot does not overcome the lack of other originality. Its predictability adds to the letdown after all the publicity and apparent popularity of this British production.

Striped Pyjamas, as the name suggests, is also a children’s film. It is their attempts to make sense of an adult world destroying itself in the name of renewal. Most will have to wait for the DVD as it has an M rating in Australia. The novel by James Boyne has won both children's and adult book awards.

Many filmgoers will find this sentimental treatment a touching experience. In many ways it has the same problem as Good: “If you missed The Reader or The Counterfeiter or classics such as Sophie’s Choice or Schindler’s List, then Good will be a fresh and rewarding experience.” Good: just another Third Reich movie

1 comment:

  1. The Holocaust theme is being done to death. With the failure of virtually every recent film that has tackled the war on terror/Afghanistan/Iraq, obviously directors are using WWII as a metaphor. But with so many films that have tackled this well, even child-specific films such as Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood, Klimov's Come and See or 2 films by Louis Malle (both screened recently at Melbourne Cinémathèque), Lancombe, Lucien and Au revoir, les enfants, one really has to wonder what's the point.

    In my opinion, the best critique of the war on terror hasn't even mentioned war: it's the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading.