Let’s talk about Nazi Exploitation films. Movies that use the mere existence of Nazis in order to fuel the appeal to watch their film. While most of these films have several sexual overtones, this is not always the case. You have your classics your Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS and your Tinto Brass’s Salon Kitty. They are typically some of the most gruesome movies out there. There to say ‘Hey, you know those Nazis?! Yeah… They were pretty fucked up!’ With movies that feature Nazis sexing people up and later castrating them on scene, yeah they can get pretty intense. That being said, most of them typically have two things in common. A) They are pretty intense movies and B) they use the concepts of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich as a means to get people to shell out the money for the product. With that being said, the 2008 movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is in this critics opinion the most well polished Nazisploitation movie that I have ever seen. A heartbreaking historical drama about a young boy who unwittingly becomes friends with a Jewish boy in a concentration camp is nothing more than a thin veil behind what is by all means a shallow movie that exploits the concept of Nazis to attempt to gain money and be used as Oscar Bait.
Set in the early days of World War II, the story is about Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and his family moving from Berlin after Bruno’s father Ralf (David Thewlis) is promoted to SS-Obersturmbannfuher Commandant of the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau of all places. The family travels to their new home where Bruno’s mother Elsa (Vera Farmiga) attempts to keep the concentration camp and the identities of the people in the camp secret from Bruno. But one day while playing, Bruno comes across the fence to the concentration camp and meets a young Jewish boy named Shmuel (mispronunciation of Samuel) (Jack Scanlon). Bruno, still ignorant of the concentration camp does not know why Shmuel is locked up in the farm.
Somehow Shmuel and Bruno begin to form a friendship all the while Bruno is attempting to put the pieces together in his mind on why they the people in the concentration camp are being held, all the while him and his sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) being fed propaganda by their teacher. The story follows Bruno as he attempts to make sense of the people across the fence and continues his friendship with Shmuel.
The Acting is Good
I will say this, at least they hired good actors for the movie. So now I can safely say that this is the most well shot and well acted Nazisploitation movie that I have ever seen. With the exception of German Von Germanington, played by Rupert Friend who comes across as every Nazi stereotype wrapped up in one pretty swastika covered bow, the remaining cast does put forth some great performances.
Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon as Bruno and Shmuel do a great job but the person who steals the show is Vera Farmiga who plays Bruno’s mother Elsa. She is the shining star out of a very well casted movie. She received an award for Best Actress at the British Independent Film Festival and it is an award well earned.
This entire movie I was waiting to find the purpose of this film. I w as trying to find the story that was trying to be told and the entire time it escaped me. Then the ending came and I was at a complete loss for words. The following contains copious amounts of spoilers so read on at your own risk… But come on this movie has been out since 2008.
After Shmuel’s father goes missing in the concentration camp, Bruno decides to sneak into the camp, put on some prison uniforms and help Shmuel find his father. Well he happened to pick a particularly sweet day to do this since today is the day that Shmuel’s group are going to be sent to the execution chamber to get a deadly dose of Zyklon B. Shmuel and Bruno together are wrangled into one of the showers and subsequently killed as Bruno’s father runs aimlessly through the camp calling for his son’s name.
This ending is absolutely terrible. Now do not get me wrong, I do not mind a sad ending. A sad ending can be very enjoyable as long as the film calls for it. You do not always have to have a happy ending, but you always need to have a satisfying ending. It needs to be an ending that fits the narrative that is being told. This ending is absolute garbage. The reason for this is because the story that is being told is not clear.
The entire movie is vague as to what it is trying to say. Is it trying to say that because Bruno’s parents did not explain to their son what the Nazis were actually doing at the concentration camp and this is the result of their negligence? That is the only explanation I can see and if that is the case then it is not well explained. Could it be because a child looking at the atrocities of the concentration camp through a child’s eye is unfathomable and thus results in his death? I do not think so.
Bottom line, any explanation that is brought up can only be claimed as vague and circumstantial. Because of this I can only assume that there isn’t a point and if there isn’t a point then this movie becomes exploitation cinema.
Unclear Lack of Purpose Ramps the Sleaze to Exponential Levels
Because of this lack of purpose and unclear ending, this sends the level of sleaze of this movie sky rocketing to exponential levels. If this was a film that actually had a purpose of existing besides being a dramatic WWII film to wrangle in money and awards then I would not be as critical of this film. But without any other purpose this just comes across as one of the sleaziest A Movies that I have ever had the misfortune to sit through.
This movie is absolutely terrible. It is well shot nazi exploitation and an attempt to tug at the heart strings of viewers and claim awards for telling a WWII story featuring two children. I do not mind exploitation cinema. As a matter of fact, I love me some exploitation as long as it knows damn well what it is trying to be. But when you are a movie like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas that is clearly trying to tell a story and only comes across as a sleazy film about a boy in a concentration camp, then you fail at your goal!
Final Score 1/5
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