Cinephile's Thoughts

Domination or laziness? Short essay on lack of reality

The Book Thief tells a story of a young girl, Liesel, who has been given in adoption by her own mother. With her new parents, she’s trying to survive the horrors of World War II. It’s a subtle question whether the delicate and sometimes abstract picture of the war was a good choice. In my opinion no. What makes the movie awkward sometimes is also a question, whether it made sense to do a movie, which action is setlled in Germany but main characters speak English?

Generally, I’m sorry to say that but really, generally, regardless the country, the main purpose of the movies is to make a profit. It can be understood taking into account, that people who made this movies need to be paid, the commissions of the theaters need to be covered and if we want that people actually go and see our movie, a considerable sum on marketing needs to be spend. As US dominates this market, the majority of the movies we see in the cinemas are in English. And this dominations brought us a movie like The Book Thief. While watching the movie, it took me some time to realize that it’s actually happening in Germany and not in the UK. I think that one of the first scenes which proved that, was the one in which the school choir sings a German song. The scenes of the square full of Nazi flags and the scene of burning the books made me sure: ok, it’s for sure happening in Germany. And suddenly the whole movie didn’t make sense and I couldn’t believe the story anymore.

What was better: let the US or British producers make this movie with English speaking actors or wait for the German producers until they find this book and write the screenplay for a movie with German speaking actors? Suggestions on one of the forums: let the English speaking actors learn German. Eeeh, seriously? As much as I didn’t like the story based in Germany told in English, something like this idea from the forum is a pure science-fiction. Exception: Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant. She did an excellent job in studying, according to filmweb.pl, 20 pages of a screenplay in Polish. What Marion Cotillard did manage, other actress in The Double Life of Veronique did not.  Irene Jacob, who played both French and Polish character, had all her lines dubbed by a  Polish actress. Could we blame her for that? Because let’s be honest, which actor would be able to learn the whole screenplay in Polish, German, or French especially for the movie without losing his or her acting? Wouldn’t actors focus then more on how to pronounce what they need to say instead on their mimic or body language?

Some people on one of the Polish forums went far and accused the producers of The Book Thief of being ignorant of the reality and thinking that adding randomly „papa” or „nein” in the screenplay will be enough to remind the audience: this is Germany, not UK. Somehow they were aware that the audience needs to be reminded about that fact as they really do experience that they watch a story of a small British girl, not German. Especially thanks to the scenes with Geoffrey Rush and his „your majesty” as if it’d be still The King’s Speech.

As much as we’d like to have reality in the movies, we need to think about our reality and the fact that if we want movies about Germans, in German, they would need to be made only about Germans. Which is impossible. By using English one can reach broader audience and it’s not producer’s arrogance but our own laziness and the domination of the US movies as well. Think about other example, The Beauty and the Beast. Its action happens in France but all the characters talk in English. Wouldn’t be nice to listen to it in French? Well, maybe the easiest solution would be just to switch the original version to the dubbed one for a particular country. The reality might not let us see the moment, in which US producers make the movie entirely abroad, with foreign actors, in order to keep its reality.

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