A Review: The Book Thief, from page to screen.

March 11, 2014

It has been an incredibly long break, but I'm back, and I have a review of the recent book to film adaptation of the bestselling novel, The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. The book comes highly recommended and its popularity speaks for itself, but I will tell you how I feel the film lived up to these high expectations.
Director: Brian Percival
Starring: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
Running time: 131 minutes
Rating: ★★★★☆
Adapting Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, a novel that has spent over 230 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list, was always going to be an exciting prospect, but also a notably difficult one. How do you do justice to a novel that is narrated by Death? Brian Percival seems to know how. The unnerving omniscient narrator is introduced as the film opens amongst the buoyant and fluffy clouds. Percival seamlessly incorporates Death, managing to avoid uncomfortably and jarringly inhibiting the story of Nazi Germany and the inhabitants of ‘Heaven Street’. Death is subtly assimilated by interesting camera angles such as those from the hatch of a bombing plane. We see him indiscriminatingly claim his victims as the bombs are dropped and the village is illuminated and destroyed.
From the very beginning, the randomness of death, and the vulnerability of life, is portrayed. Reminiscent of a Harry Potter death-eater scene, the shot sweeps through the train carriage as Death intimidatingly glares at the nameless bodies, before selecting his victim and taking a child’s life – the first of many. Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) haunts Death, eluding his grasp on each of their encounters.
The casting of the film is responsible for successfully unfolding such an affecting story. Tears and laughter come hand in hand as we watch a young girl move in with her foster family, and try to enjoy a normal childhood. Geoffrey Rush, as Hans, doesn’t disappoint in reflecting the sensitive Papa, who teaches Liesel to read, inspiring her love and appreciation for books just at a time that they are being ruthlessly burned. Emily Watson, as Rosa, steals the show. She skilfully represents Mama, an uptight woman desperately trying to feed her family and losing business every day. The childhood friendship of Liesel and the endearingly infatuated Rudy (Nico Liersch) is excellently and convincingly portrayed. The scenes of childhood play partially transport the audience away from Nazi Germany into a place of youthful innocence and naivety.
The book and film offer an interesting perspective on Nazi Germany from the domestic life of German non-conformists, removing the focus from the political side of the war. There is a sense of naivety as Liesel fails to understand why she can’t say she hates Hitler, and why you can’t hide a Jew. Although at times this does seems slightly unrealistic, it works to convey the senselessness of the circumstances.
There were several incongruous parts, such as the strangely unmaimed corpses of the inhabitants of a village that has been destroyed. However, the fantastical gloss seems to allow for these slight oddities, or perhaps it’s because the film is partially from Liesel’s innocent perspective. In this sense the uninjured corpses represent the message that death will come to everybody, and for those with love, it will do so in peace. Given the serious subject matter, the tone is certainly far from dark and gritty. Some of the scenes almost seem incongruously picturesque, as a steam train makes its path through blankets of virgin snow, or as the village is depicted as a perfect biscuit-box Bavarian town. Perhaps these artistic glosses are what enable the message to be conveyed: despite the political atrocities of Nazi repression, you have to live your life by enjoying the small things, looking for beauty, and taking risks for what you love. You have to steal a book, or hide a Jew.

Have you read the book or seen the film? What did you think?

A day out at Vizille Castle

October 14, 2013

During the weekend we had a day out visiting Vizille, which was just a short 20 minute car journey down the road. Vizille is home to a majestic chateau, and to some wonderful childhood memories. I think we used to visit the castle in the summer; the grounds are perfect for picnicking and we used to play games and ride the ponies etc. One day, an unruly little toddler was playing too close to the lake and was constantly being told to come away, the next thing we knew my brother was in the lake. Fond fond memories... and those are the kind that I am in no hurry to forget!

I hadn't visited the museum so we started by having a wander through the exhibition. It offered a lot of interesting information about the French Revolution, but it was difficult to absorb it all without reading everything in a lot of detail. So we took the opportunity to admire the artwork and sculptures, absorb some of the history, and take some photos, (which I would never even have attempted in a museum prior to Marc's help.) 

After a lot of wandering around inside on a beautiful sunny day,
 it was more than time to get into the fresh air.

 We took a quick detour to the ice cream parlour and chose our favourite ice creams.
 Some of us weren't able to stick to our initial decisions, so there was a little thievery.

Next it was time for my most anticipated part: the gardens.

 After a good walk, we caught the sun going down and watched the light illuminate the trees. A photographer's dream: golden hour.

And that was the end to a wonderful day. After that, I reluctantly had to think about packing up, taking the journey back to England, before practically turning on the spot for my next destination... Sri Lanka!

Revisiting Where I Grew Up: The French Alps

October 13, 2013

I was born in the French Alps and this year I went back to visit family friends after a good seven years away. After making my way to Lyon airport, then catching a bus, followed by a train, I finally ended up in Vif- a small village that surrounds the village in which I grew up.
When I hopped off the train I was hit by the French summer heat, the silence of the small village, and the view of a chicken pen several metres from the train track. Only in France, where Health and Safety officers seem to have been negligent or overlooked rather a lot, I thought. Next it was time to head to the cafe/bar that was to be my home for a week. I felt like a complete outsider as I headed down the street with my suitcase in tow and all of the other bags and items of clothing that didn't quite make it into the suitcase. I probably looked quite a picture and it all felt a little surreal much like it might have felt for Lucy Snowe in Villette or, for a more contemporary reference, Zoe from Hart of Dixie. The little village is so far removed from where I live in England and as I walked practically the length of the village, two young girls were playing in their garden and offered me a friendly 'bonjour madam' as I walked past. It was such a small gesture, but it felt so alien when compared to the familiar hostility of any walkers by in England. I arrived in the courtyard that is home to the pharmacy, the restaurant, and my friend's cafe/bar, to find it closed. With no signal and no way of getting hold of anyone, I got comfortable on the bench by the fountain. It wasn't long though before I was greeted by my old friends. After a pretty interesting first day, I settled in very quickly and enjoyed a wonderful week.

The week mainly consisted of early morning reading, eating my croissant, that was still warm from having been freshly baked and then delivered by the baker himself, (thank god I don't live in France for the sake of my waistline), and watching the regulars come and go all with their established order of an espresso or two whilst reading the paper, smoking, or chatting with friends. I spent the week in the style of a true flaneur and it was wonderful.

I read my first french novel since being a little girl: Albert Camus' La Peste. It wasn't quite along the same lines as the stories of talking ghosts that I had previously been familiar with in french, and nor was it half as enjoyable, despite being ever so slightly more critically acclaimed.
This was my alternative reading spot for the week: sat in the shade of the trees by the river. It really was the perfect tranquil reading spot, (apart from when a dog decided to paddle in the water which made me rise from a little slumber before being awakened fully with him shaking the water from his fur and, naturally, all over me.)

One of the days we picnicked by the river and Marc helped me with my photography. I have a lot to thank him for because from this week onwards I have been exclusively using the manual mode and feeling a lot more confident with my camera in general.

Whilst I was putting my newly acquired skills to practice, Marc had found himself a subject for his photos too- so everyone was happy! (Particularly since I didn't know that I was in his photos until afterwards)

After a wonderful lunch we had a game of petanque at my request. At one point, whilst I was losing in a devastating fashion, I thought I might have made a mistake asking to play it- especially against a french family. But it all turned out ok in the end because I clawed back to finish second, (of three) I think we can all agree that that is an achievement and a half!..

The evenings were spent sipping wine or in fact any drink from the large selection at the bar, and eating- lots and lots of eating. We reminisced, and I learnt some amusing stories about what I was like as a child. Tomorrow's nostalgic post will show one of our days out in a location that I was excited to revisit based on some very fond memories involving a lake and my brother's accidental entry into it.

All of the photos are mine save for those with me in, which are taken by Marc.

A perfect morning in Paris

September 28, 2013

Get up early and enjoy the best part of the day; 
as Paris awakes take a walk to the nearest Boulangerie to pick up breakfast.

Tuck into a heavenly croissant, and the fruit that you couldn't resist picking up from the greengrocers with his inviting stalls of fresh, colourful, and temptingly scented fruit.
Time to get ready, hop on the metro, and get yourself into the centre of Paris. Get off at the stop Hotel de Ville to enable a little stroll on the way to Notre Dame de Paris. You will pass the majestic Palais de Justice on the way.

Next stop, Shakespeare & Company: An Anglophone bookshop opened in 1951 by George Whitman who originally named it Le Mistral. After Sylvia Beach's death he renamed his shop to Shakespeare & Company as a tribute to her and the bookshop she had opened in 1919. Sylvia Beach's bookshop had been an important centre for the the literary world- particularly for writers and artists of the Lost Generation, ( the generation that came of age during World War I.) Many Modernist thinkers gathered here such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. Famously, Beach published Joyce's book Ulysses in 1922, which had been banned elsewhere. Whitman's store was the perfect place to continue Beach's legacy since he had the same principles that a bookshop should be for lending, borrowing, reading, writing, and sharing ideas- not just a means to earn a living. Both Beach and Whitman believed in the importance of keeping writers and readers 'on the same creative continuum. 'Writers are not reduced to small-time semi-celebrities, and readers are not patronised as consumers.'

Wander around the bookshop trying to take everything in: from the towering piles of books comprised of an eclectic mix of genres, your fellow book lover tourists from all areas of the globe, to the unique imprints that Whitman has left all around. On your way upstairs, don't miss the wonderful quote above the doorway. Upstairs you will find the children's collection. In Sylvia Beach's memorial library you're invited to stay and read, and you can certainly feel that you are absorbing some literary heritage from the walls, and through the pages of books in this old bookshop that continues to progress and hold its own place in the modern literary world whilst maintaining its unique identity.

Once you have finally torn yourself away, it's time to go for an aimless(ish) wander. Shakespeare & Company is far from the only bookshop around, and not even the only Anglophone of them. The Latin Quarter is an area in which it is easy to lose yourself in amongst the small side streets dotted with independent shops and restaurants.

Having wandered around the latin quarter, it's time for a change of scene. Nearby is le Pont de l'Archevêché. It would be a challenge to try to prevent yourself from smiling as you see all of the besotted couples, old and young and from around the world, attach their lockets to the bridge.

If you continue following this road you will end up at le Musee D'Orsay, (presuming you don't get distracted by too many of the sites on the way.) The building is an impressive old train station and warmly invites you in to see the impressionist and post-impresionist art collection.

If you were tempted to enter, it could be any time of the day that you exit- and almost definitely past lunchtime. So that is the end of your morning wandering around Paris, and the last of my posts on the city. I think it is fairly evident that I had a wonderful time and I have so many places to explore further and areas that I didn't get anywhere near seeing even after a week of staying in Paris.

My previous posts document the other areas of Paris that I explored: 

A week in Paris: Champs-Elysees, Louvre, La Défense

September 13, 2013

My week in Paris was spent living in the suburbs, in Sèvres. I was staying at my Uncle's house, but I had the opportunity to pop into the centre of Paris on a few different occasions. The first morning I woke up to the beautiful Parisian skyline and watched the sun radiate a warm good morning to all of its citizens.

I can certainly think of worse ways to start my day; the only problem was trying to convince myself that it wasn't all my day was going to consist of!

Having dragged myself out of bed I got myself ready, got my things together, armed myself with a map, and began my mission to tackle the tourist sites of Paris. I started off with the obvious destinations and took the metro to The Champs-Elysees. I walked up from the metro station, followed the stairs towards the signs indicating 'sortie'. As the sunlight soaked the exit, I walked a couple of paces before being faced with the imposing Arc de Triomphe. It's safe to say I didn't have trouble finding my first destination, and nor had all the other tourists. Predictably busy, I didn't choose to enter into the museum, but walked around it admiring the arch, and its intricate design, nonetheless.

After observing my surroundings I followed the avenue of the Champs- Elysees. It was bizarre seeing these famous monuments and tourist attractions for the first time in the flesh having seen them so many times in photos. The amazing thing I found about Paris is how easily accessible and navigable everything is. Following the avenue introduced me to so many museums and buildings along the way. Every few steps I felt as if I was consulting my map to work out what the grand buildings were that I could see in all directions. 

Eventually, after a few diversions on the way, I arrived at the Tuileries Gardens. 
It wasn't long before I recognised the famous Louvre and its older buildings that surround it.

It was a wonderfully sunny day so I made the most of it sitting by the fountains whilst having some lunch, soaking up the atmosphere, and admiring the wonderful view in every direction. That's another thing about Paris, it almost seems like it was designed with the greatest amount of foresight and the most efficient and thorough planning officers; I never looked up, crossed the street, or walked round a corner to be hit with an aesthetic anomaly.

After my first sample of Paris' delicious lunch, and perhaps a little ice cream, I consulted my map once more. I decided to explore a slightly different area that I hadn't heard much about. La Défense is the business district of Paris and probably the equivalent to Canary Wharf. It, too, has impressive modern architecture, but not solely new...

The fountains were beautiful, but one of my favourite things about La Défense was the view. I find it incredible how Paris is essentially built around one long avenue, (Champs-Elysees.) The symmetry is really impressive; when standing by the arch in this financial district you can see the Arc de Triomphe. The same applies from the other direction, if you stand behind the Louvre you can see the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Arc de Triomphe. The way that old and new have been seamlessly incorporated was something that I very much admired.

And I left it at that for my first day of exploring Paris. 
Part 2 to follow, and my first post exploring Versailles is linked here.

Have you been to Paris? Did you visit all of the popular tourist attractions, or did you find some other areas off the beaten track?