Friday, November 21, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is a normal 8 year-old boy with a loving mother (Vera Farmiga), a protective older sister (Amber Beattie), and a father (David Thewlis) who he is proud of. Oh, did I forget to mention that the film is set in Germany during WWII and Bruno’s father is an SS officer?

When his father takes a promotion the family moves from Berlin to a fortified house in the country, near what Bruno takes for a farm filled with strange people in striped pajamas. When he inquires about the new neighbors Bruno is ordered to stay far away, which, for a inquisitive, curious 8 year-old, is the perfect temptation.

Through the fence of the camp Bruno begins a friendship with a young boy named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon). It is through this relationship Bruno begins to question his father and the world around him which will lead him onto a path neither his family nor his new friend could have foreseen.

Although the film is overly simplistic in many ways, it still works. Obviously at least one of the guards would have noticed the children spending time together, and movement in and around the camp resembles Hogan’s Heroes more than reality.

Also troubling to me is the odd choice of casting British and American actors as Germans, all doing their natural accents. In this film about Germans no German is spoken and no hint of a German accent is anywhere to be found. If the people themselves don’t feel at times like Germans the film does make clever use of German propaganda films of the time and the teaching of Bruno’s Nazi tutor which only add to the young boy’s confusion and help lay the groundwork for the film’s final act.

Even with its issues the film works very well and ends as you’d expect in tragedy. There’s even an “oh, shit” moment which begins the final act which sets events in motion which leads into a strong, if a bit too foreseeable, climax.

I would have preferred this done as a German film but director Mark Herman and his crew make due with the cast they are given, who perform quite well even if its hard at the beginning to buy them in these roles. I wouldn’t recommend the film for young children, but for tweens and up this is a good introduction to the Holocaust through the eyes of characters their own age.

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