Film: Series: All The Light We Cannot See
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Aria Mia Loberti, Louis Hofmann, Lars Eidinger, Hugh Laurie and Mark Ruffalo
Book adaptations are a tricky business… yet remains a go-to formula for OTT content providers. But when the book in question is a Pulitzer- prize winning novel by Anthony Doerr, comparisons are bound to be more critical. In case you have not read the book, the Netflix series All The Light We Cannot See throws sufficient light on the book, the period in which it is set and the spirit that it intends to capture.
Times are desolate…it’s world war II, but it’s almost the end of it and in war-torn France, French have to face adversities and the wrath of German soldiers. Germans’ plight is no better; they are waiting for fait accompli, the impending doom. For Americans are coming.
Amidst these tumultuous times the series connects a French blind girl Marie Laure and a young German Army man Werner. She reads passages from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and sends coded messages to Americans. He is a brilliant signals guy whose job it is to intercept such missives. Their bond has something to do with air waves, radio to be precise. As the series moves back and forth, we learn how both protagonists in their childhood years listened to one particular radio frequency where a professor talked about light, love and hope. In a way the series’ basic premise despite the air of melancholy is exactly that… light that we can’t see, which exists within us conquers all, not just darkness but even hatred.
In a divisive world, inching towards inclusivity, the series make a refreshing statement. Marie in the series is played by a blind actor Aria Mia Loberti and even her childhood part is essayed by a visually challenged actor Nell Sutton. No wonder their performances are not affected and touching to the point of poignancy. In the company of fine actors like Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie, Loberti makes an assured debut. Then there is Louis Hofmann. As a man drawn into the vortex of war out of compulsion rather than choice, he is impactful as Werner.
The length of the series, a mere four episodes, is both its strength and weakness. The advantage is that the pace never flags and your attention does not waver. But the four-part series cannot probably capture every complexity of the written word. Nevertheless, resplendently shot (cinematographer Tobias A Schliessler), with a background score (by James Newton Howard) befitting the mood of the narrative. It engages and touches at the same time. The conversations and scenes between the father Daniel LeBlanc (Ruffalo) and daughter Marie in particular are riveting. Hugh Laurie comes alive in his character of veteran war hero Etienne LeBlanc and Mark Ruffalo’s face is aglow with the warmth of love for his daughter. The only grouse could be the characterisation of German soldiers. Not just the main villain Reinhold von Rumpel (Lars Eidinger) but almost all except Werner are portrayed as rabid monsters. Of course, the tale is more personal than a summary of nations at war. War scenes appear authentic. But the most real are emotions at play. Wars are about death and destruction and it’s a rare account that is affirmative with lines like ‘Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.’ This Shawn Levy directorial with screenplay by Steven Knight makes us see light not just at the end of the tunnel but one lying dormant within us, one which even darkness of the times we live in can’t snuff out.