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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in our magazines

THE MOVIE: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

David Thewlis • Vera Farmiga • Asa Butterfield • Jack Scanlon • Amber Beattie
DIRECTOR: Mark Herman

Poster artwork THE CONCEPT:
Eight year old Bruno (Butterfield) is the sheltered son of a Nazi officer (Thewlis) whose promotion takes the family from their comfortable home in Berlin to a desolate area near what Bruno believes is a farm. Bored and curious, Bruno ignores his mother, Elsa’s (Farmiga) instructions not to explore the back garden, and he heads for the farm, where he meets Shmuel (Scanlon), a boy his own age who lives on the other side of the fence. Their meetings develop into a friendship that has devastating consequences.

U.S. RELEASE: November 7 2008, Limited / 14th Nationwide • Rated: PG-13


John BoyneJOHN BOYNE (author of the book):
“I wrote it for probably the best reason you can write any book, which is I had a good idea. It started with the idea of the two boys at the fence, talking to each other. I knew three things at the start, I knew there would be a boy who was taken away from a place of safety, which is home, I knew that there would be the moment where he would meet the boy at the fence, and I knew how it would end. I just sat down and I started to write it and connect the points between those three sides, a triangle of the story. I felt that I had something interesting on my hands that if I did it right, it could work out to be quite powerful.”

“It was a challenge to bring the book to the screen. I think one of the reasons the film rights hadn’t been already gone is that it is quite hard to imagine it as a film when you read it as a book. But I just fancied the challenge, and I also fancied working on my own for a little while, without any script notes from upstairs anywhere, and that’s why I bought the film rights myself. I was sort of buying my freedom for a short while. It’s a very tricky adaptation. I’ve done four adaptations now, and I think this was the biggest challenge.”

“I based this character on Rudolf Hoess, since there was this book, The Commandant of Auschwitz available, which is his autobiography. He was ordered to write it between his trail and execution. He describes the atrocities, and it’s a very strong book because he has no remorse. He tries to be apologetic, but used the line that he was only following orders; he never says it was wrong. [I wanted to show] the dichotomy of him as a loving father and husband, as most of my character’s scenes take place within the house. You don’t see him at the camp until the very end of the film. Rudolph Hoess talks about his family in the book, these men were fathers and loved their children, but it was obviously incomprehensible that they were able to kiss their children goodbye at the door and then go murder children in the same day.”

“I tried to find as many snapshots and portraits of what it meant to be a woman, a dutiful wife and loving mother in Germany at that time. Her highest purpose in life first came to her husband, being an accomplice to his desires and ambitions, and bearing him as many children as you could bear. I tried to find as many accounts, references, diaries and journals as I could. It was hard for me in doing the research to believe that the wives of the commandants [of the concentration camps] claimed that for two years they didn’t know that people were being hurt. Ultimately, the apathy comes from having a narrow periphery with what immediately affects you, your place in society, the safety of your family. It’s hard to understand.”

"I’ve wanted to work with David Thewlis for many years. There are very few actors who I think would take this role on and perform it as brilliantly as I think he does. It’s quite a dangerous role, and I think he’s fantastic in it, there’s very few actors who can play that kind of character, who can play chess with his son one night and then the next day go out and kill several hundred people, it’s a challenging role.”

“One of the hardest scenes for me was when Elsa smells the smoke, and she’s told what the scent in the air is. We were shooting in the spring and it was a day where the trees were weeping pollen, so the sky was full of what seemed like ash, and if you look closely you’ll see these little things floating through the air which was pollen.”

“I think Asa and Jack give two of the best performances of children in recent memory. They’re just astonishing, which is what makes the film so powerful I think; you just love them both.”

“It was probably a harder job for Jack, and his character, than it was for Asa, although the stamina required by Asa is enormous because he’s in nearly every scene, and had to be on set every day. Jack was only there for three weeks in the middle of the shoot. But the performance from Jack, well both of them, I’m still amazed by it. And I can’t begin to explain how I got it, but there was a fantastic kids’ acting coach called Celia Batton who was on the set, and she would just simply get them in the mood just before they came on set.”

Son and mother, Asa Butterfield and Vera Farmiga“We had the luxury of shooting this in order, which you don’t have as an actor, but we really did it for the children. We didn’t take on the responsibility of teaching them what the holocaust was about, we felt it was the parents’ duty to do that, and in fact shooting chronologically, it became a history lesson for the children.”

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

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Film Review, #701, November 2008 cover

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