Friday, February 27, 2009

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

From director Mark Herman, comes a Holocaust-story about two children- called The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (2008). Based on the novel by John Boyne, it tells the story of Bruno, whose family is relocated to the countryside during World War II. Separated from all his friends, and driven by loneliness to explore his surroundings, he comes across a 'farm', and a 'boy in striped pyjamas'. Of course, the farm is a Nazi concentration camp, and the boy is a Jewish prisoner. What follows is a friendship that transcends beliefs, culture, and race- and perhaps even death.

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is a story based on the Holocaust, but with a refreshingly new perspective- for it is seen through the eyes of a child. Bruno, as the son of the German officer, questions the treatment of the Jews with all the innocence that childhood possesses, and wonders why they are treated badly, while they are so comfortably off. He sees smoke from the camp's chimneys, rising into the sky, and wonders what's burning, and why it smells so bad. He thinks all the people in 'striped pyjamas' are farmers, and thinks it ridiculous that the 'farmer' in his kitchen gave up his medical practice to peel potatoes.

The film presents the inhumanity and horrors of the Holocaust- as seen through the non-judgmental, naive eyes of a young child. It is a beautiful story, with all its languidity- for here there is no fast-paced action, no Death Marches, no excessive violence- but despite all that, the simple treatment of the film moved me much more. Credit goes to Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon for great acting, in the roles of Bruno and Shmuel (the Jewish boy) respectively. Vera Farmiga, as Bruno's mother, puts in a riveting performance too- as the woman who is torn between her roles- will she be a good German wife and support her husband's none-too-noble work, or will she be a mother and protect her children from the horrible sights of the Holocaust? And Bruno's father (David Thewlis) seems to fit into his role as the Nazi officer with ease- in many parts, he seems to actually be the monster his wife accuses him of being.

What is perhaps one of the most moving aspects about this film is the multi-layered treatment of the characters. No one character is portrayed as all good, or all bad- no, not even the Germans. Bruno, in all his innocence, sympathises with the ill-treatment of the Jews in his house, and quickly forms a friendship with Shmuel, a friendship that is based purely on talk from either side of an electrocuted fence- Bruno brings him food, keeps him amused, and is indeed all a good friend should be. However, he lies in a situation, to save his own skin, and thereby Bruno is not a flawless character.

The pronounced British accents in all the characters are a little disconcerting, and certain parts of the movie call for suspension of disbelief (for instance, how would a young Jewish prisoner be left unattended near the fence for hours at a stretch? And is it really so easy to dig into a camp?).

But once you get used to all that- the cinematography, the music, and the good direction take up all your attention. The movie is stunning in its own way, and despite some minor imperfections, it still works- and is woefully underrated. This grim story about a bond between two young boys will leave you emotionally raw, but somewhere, I guarantee, you will feel a sense of hope.

With themes like the loss of childhood and innocence, the Holocaust, and internal conflict, it is a piece of cinematic achievement that will leave you spellbound, almost as much as Life Is Beautiful- another film that deals with a child's innocence about the Holocaust.

The ending is beautiful and poignant- and perhaps the only way the story could have ended. I was left with a sense of loss, and oddly yet, a sense of faith, that perhaps friendship does overcome every kind of boundary, and that despite the odds, it can live on.


Uttaran said...

This film is very depressing

Magically Bored said...

@ Uttaran: You've seen it? Yes, it's depressing, but it's also really beautiful.

What's In A Name ? said...

nice review. will try to get hold of it.

coming to holocaust films , watched Die Falscher a few days back.

Sougata said...

I keep visiting this blog, well I have the least penetration to comment about movies or movie reviews but I enjoy movies. I liked all the movies in this blog .

Please update.

The Observer said...

This is a beautiful movie. Also, try _Fateless_. It'll be worth the watch.

Dream Baron said...

I would have told you about this movie actually..i loved a few of the scenes in the film..some of the scenes i think were made keeping photo frames in mind..

Magically Bored said...

@ What's In A Name: Haven't seen that one. Is it any good?

@ Sougata: Will do. I am trying to revive this blog.

@ The Observer: Will do, thanks for the suggestion.

@ Dream Baron: Yes, possibly.