Monday, December 11, 2023

Entertainment Review: All The Light We Cannot See

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It took almost a decade for Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling novel, All the Light We Cannot See, to make it to the screen. The sprawling World War-ll epic is about the unlikely connection between blind French girl and a young German soldier trapped in the coastal town of Saint-Malo during the brutal Nazi occupation of France. It needed more than a normal feature length and works well in the mini series format,

In the show created by Shawn Levy and Stephen Knight, some changes have been made to the novel, but the casting of the actually sight impaired Aria Mia Loberti as the blind protagonist, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, is an apt choice. She is left alone in the attic of a crumbling mansion as her father and uncle disappear.

The town’s starving residents also have to face nightly bombings by Allied Forces targeting Nazi outposts and are locked in by the Nazis to prevent them from leaving. Amidst the chaos, Marie-Laure broadcasts appeals for her father and uncle’s return and also reads pages from a Braille copy of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which the Nazis rightly suspect, is a way of sending out coded messages to the French Resistance,

When she was a child, her father Daniel (Mark Ruffalo), who worked at the natural history museum of Paris built a scale model of the city and taught her to find her way around using sound and touch.

He also told her the legend of the cursed Sea of Flames diamond, that offers immortality to anyone who handles it, but causes untold misery to their loved ones. Years after this, when the Germans attacked and the LeBlancs fled to Saint-Malo, Daniel took the gem with him to prevent it from falling into Nazi hands. The scent of fortune brings sadistic Nazi gemologist Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel (Lars Eidinger) to Saint-Malo, looking for her.

In the basement of a bombed-out hotel, German soldier Werner Pfennig (Louis Hofmann) listens to her voice on the same frequency as a children’s science radio programme created by Marie-Laure’s great-uncle Etienne (Hugh Laurie). The radio helped Werner survive the horrors of an orphanage and training in a brutal German military camp. He is forced to join the Nazis, as a radio communications expert, but refuses to give up the coordinates to Marie-Laure’s home to protect her from summary execution.

It is not something as trite as a love story between the two teenagers, however; for those who may have read and remember the book, there is a kind of spiritual bonding through the devastation of war that has destroyed their lives. Screen adaptations of complex—even one as beautifully shot and designed as this one—tend to flatten out nuance. The performances are not flawless either—with everybody speaking in British-accented English and adopting saccharine-y tones. But it is worth four hours of viewing time.

All The Light We Cannot See

Created by: Stephen Knight and Shawn Levy

Cast: Ari Mia Loberti, Louis Hoffman

On Netflix

Deepa Gahlot
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best-known entertainment journalists. A National Award-winning fim critic and author of several books on film and theatre. She tweets at @deepagahlot

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