The director of “The boy needs some fresh air” has the school literature classic When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit filmed as a drama from the eyes of its young protagonist. An excellent approach to the well-known material. We reveal more about this in our review.
The Kempers always stick together.
The plot summary
Berlin, 1933: Anna Kemper (Riva Krymalowski) is only nine years old when her life changes completely: In order to escape the Nazis, her father Arthur (Oliver Masucci), a respected theater critic and avowed anti-government journalist, has to go to Zurich flee; his family – wife Dorothea (Carla Juri) and his two children Anna and Max (Marinus Hohmann) – follow him a short time later. Anna leaves everything behind, including her beloved pink stuffed rabbit, and has to face a new life in a foreign country full of challenges and privations.
Judith Kerr’s autobiographical novel “When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit” has been part of the most important Second World War school reading since the 1970s. In the book, Kerr describes from nine-year-old Anna’s perspective (i.e. more or less her own) what it’s like to be on the run from the Nazis with your family. What sets the novel and now the film adaptation of the same name apart from other works of World War literature is the almost conciliatory narrative style, which can easily be misinterpreted as transfiguration. In the end, she’s actually just being consistent; after all, Anna’s family is trying everything to keep the war and everything that goes with it away from their children. Father Arthur even tries to sell his escape through Europe to his Anna as a kind of adventure. An adventure with barbs, of course. Because in both the book and the film, despite all the fake idyll, it always shines through that the horror of the (impending) war is always close on the Kemper family’s heels. With her film adaptation, director Caroline Link (“The boy needs to get some fresh air”) creates a family drama whose form adapts to the narrative. “When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit” subordinates the war theme to family solidarity, so that the film is ultimately no longer a war film in the true sense.
Arthur (Oliver Masucci) with his two children Anna (Riva Krymalowski) and Max (Marinus Hohmann).
There are several scenes in “When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit” in which the otherwise very subtle threat of war breaks out of this subtlety. For example, at a border crossing where mother Dorothea (Carla Juri) urges her two children to behave absolutely inconspicuously so that their trip to Switzerland doesn’t look like an escape (after all, father Arthur has always written newspaper articles critical of the government and has to leave fear for his life at the moment Hitler came to power). Or even when the caretaker of their new apartment in Paris makes openly anti-Semitic statements and the Kempers can never be sure whether they are really safe in their new hostel. In moments like this you realize that “When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit” really takes place in the early days of the Second World War and that the Kemper family doesn’t travel halfway around the world because they have fun, but because they do would most likely persecute her in her home country of Germany. As Jews as well as the family of a government critic. But even in scenes like this, the horror comes quietly. The threatening situation on the train is resolved without director Caroline Link artificially over-dramatizing it. And even if we don’t know until the end how suspicious the Parisian landlady really is towards the Kempers (even when she leaves, a short exchange of words between her father Arthur and her goes unheard by the audience), there is never any question that Anna and her family will not fall victim to the Nazis; simply because Judith alias Anna was able to finish the book.
The threat is also mainly mentioned in adult conversations; and as an adult viewer, some things that remain hidden from children’s eyes can be interpreted as a direct reaction to Nazi persecution. For Anna, on the other hand, from whose perspective “When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit” is told, one of the biggest problems during this time is that she is only allowed to take a single stuffed animal with her on the trip or, due to a lack of money, little or hardly any of it There is food. At the same time, their parents try to keep the adverse flight and living conditions as far away from their children as possible. Something that is also reflected in the production when Link lets her story play out in well-lit settings, filming one of the most elaborate stages of the journey against the picturesque backdrop of the Alps, where the lush green of the meadows and the always blue sky create an intoxicating holiday backdrop. While Anna mainly has to deal with her classmates teasing her, the barbs mentioned at the beginning are mainly found in the details: For example, when Arthur’s brother Julius (strong: Justus von Dohnányi) only fakes the supposed holiday feeling; knowing it may be the last time he sees his family. The same applies to a birthday call from the nanny Heimpi (Ursula Werner), who has stayed in Germany and can no longer flee Nazi rule. The phone call between her and Anna is one of the best, as it is the most contradictory scene in the entire film in terms of narrative and staging.
The favor that appears at first glance is actually no favor at all. Time and time again, the moments of absolute joy and feigned happiness get stuck in your throat until the “We have to move again” conversations between parents and children seem to trigger less and less shocked reactions from Anna and her brother, but in reality turn increasingly bitter . Ultimately, the makers never leave any doubt about how tragic all of this is. The chosen, family-friendly feel-good form is probably the best in terms of form in order to best underline the narrative core of family cohesion. This family is embodied by the once again outstanding Oliver Masucci (“Work without an author”) as a combative theater critic, but also aware of the risks of the situation, who remains just as true to his ideals as to his loved ones. Carla Yuri (“Blade Runner 2049”) Thanks to her self-sacrificing performance as a pianist and mother, a second new career wave could take place in United Kingdom after she recently worked primarily on international projects. But above all it is newcomer Riva Krymalowski (“Family!”), who shines here in her very first film role and, after initial, seemingly slightly awkward dialogues, quickly finds a remarkable naturalness in her interaction with her surroundings. The Kempers’ journey becomes an experience above all because of their child-friendly naivety, which makes the film predestined, like the book, to be shown in all (USA) schools in the future in order to show the effects of the Second World War on individual family fates – sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly – to clarify.
Conclusion: The effects of the Second World War on Jewish persecutees in the guise of a family feel-good film – what sounds cynical and romanticizing becomes, in the hands of director Caroline Link, a sincere film about family cohesion and illustrates the importance of adopted narrative perspectives. “When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit” also impresses with a great cast and a high level of production effort.
“When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” can be seen in USA cinemas nationwide from December 25th.