September 12, 2008

Horrors of War Relived Through the Eyes of a Boy


STARS: Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, Jack Scanlon, Rupert Friend, Sheila Hancock.

DIRECTOR: Mark Herman.

BASED on the best-selling novel by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas relives the horrors of the Second World War from the perspective of an eight-year-old German tyke, who is blissfully unaware of the vital role played by his Nazi officer fatherin the unfolding tragedy.

The subject matter is incredibly bleak and the final act of this well-crafted film sets in motion a chain of events that must, inevitably, culminate in tragedy.

Despite the myriad horrors and our tearful response, Herman's script reveals moments of beauty and hope through the eyes of its young, idealistic hero, who will become a footnote in one of the darkest chapters in European history.

Bruno (Asa Butterfield) arrives home from school one day to discover that his commandant father (Thewlis) has been promoted and the entire family must relocate far from away from the city and their friends.

While his mother and older sister embrace the fresh start, Bruno is desperately sad and lonely in the new house.

Hungry for adventure, he sneaks into the woods and stumbles upon what appears to be a farm, and a young boy in striped pyjamas.

Separated by a barbed-wire fence, the two boys become friends, until Bruno learns the truth - his new friend is a Jew and the farm is actually a concentration camp under the control of his father.

Herman tries to distance his characters from obvious Nazi cliches by having the Germans speak in clipped English, which is a little distracting at first. However, the device ultimately brings us closer - whether we like it or not - to the family.

The two young leads deliver remarkably natural and unaffected performances as the friends who should be sworn enemies.

Their scenes together at the wire fence, playing draughts or concocting harebrained schemes, are sensitively handled.*****

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