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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

A stirring glimpse at Europe's darkest hour
By PEG ALOI  |  November 17, 2008
3.5 3.5 Stars


Writer/director Mark Herman (Little Voice) adapts John Boyne's novel of a German boy's friendship with a Jewish concentration-camp victim — a stirring glimpse at Europe's darkest hour. Eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and his family leave his Berlin home for a drab fortress in the country so his Nazi-officer father (a brilliant David Thewlis) can oversee a "new project."

Bored and friendless, Bruno wanders through the woods and finds a sad, hungry boy his age, Schmuel (Jack Scanlon), behind a wire fence. Friendship blooms. Neither child understands their situation. Bruno's mother (Vera Farmiga) implodes as she discovers her husband's monstrous deeds and his devotion to the Third Reich.

The film's conventions raise red flags: the Germans have flawless British accents, and the Holocaust's atrocities are filtered through a child's eyes. But the performances never falter, and even James Horner's heavy-handed score can't dim the film's unfathomable, unshakable ending.

93 minutes | Kendall Square + [West Newton]

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