Opening night at the Mill Valley Film Festival featured a pre-release — actually, the first-ever public screening — of The Book Thief, based on the novel by Markus Zusak. I referred to it as a romantic treatment of a story we’ve seen before: WWII Germany, Nazis, Jews and (atypically) regular German citizens. It’s not romantic in the sense of romantic love, but rather “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.” In this case it’s everyday people in very difficult circumstances.
Wow, what a way to start the festival. A superb film in just about every way. Terrific screenplay by Michael Petroni. Likewise the direction by Brian Percival, who previously directed a half-dozen episodes of Downton Abbey. This is his first feature. Geoffrey Rush is great, as usual, but the knockout performance is by a young French-Canadian actress, Sophie Nélisse. The cut we saw tonight isn’t the final mix, and I hope they tone down a few of the big-swell John Williams music moments, but that’s about the only flaw. For the most part, Williams’ score is great. It was filmed in Berlin and other than the leads, the rest of the cast are German. Everyone — seriously, everyone — is spot on. Terrific cinematography and editing, too. So we started the 36th #MillValleyFilmFestival with an A. The Book Thief will have a few premieres on November 8, then open in New York and Los Angeles on November 15. Look for it elsewhere at the end of the year or in early 2014. Highly recommended. #MVFF