Jack Scanlon (left) and Asa Butterfield make their bond believable.
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS directed by Mark Herman, written by Herman from the novel by John Boyne, with David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga and Asa Butterfield. A Maple release. 93 minutes. Opens Friday (November 7). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
Holocaust movies don't get to me any more.
I was brought up with a thorough knowledge of the trauma, faced the sickening images when I was nine years old at Holy Blossom Temple's religious school - way too early, in my view - and was pummelled by the "lest we forget" message through childhood.
When Schindler's List came out, I shrugged. Except for the performances, the film gave me nothing new. Even Lars von Trier's Europa, which was a revelation for the jury at Cannes, pressed the "Get it, we're on a train" button way too hard for me.
The Boy In The Striped Pajamas makes an impact because it's told from the point of view of an eight-year-old.
Young Bruno's father, a Nazi officer, announces that the family is moving to the countryside, where he'll take up a new post.
When they arrive, Bruno, a natural explorer, is warned not to wander, especially to the "farm" he can see from his bedroom window. But lonely and isolated, he can't resist, and walks over to the place where the farmers wear striped pajamas and strikes up a friendship with Shmuel, who lives on the other side of the barbed wire.
Herman's script, adapted from the novel by John Boyne, makes the not-totally-credible scenario - boys talking across the Auschwitz fence?
I don't think so - believable. Their conversations are so elliptical that Bruno can't grasp what's going on. He knows, for example, that the man who peels potatoes in his home used to be a doctor, and when Shmuel says his father used to be a watchmaker before he came there, Bruno wonders, in beautiful innocence, why so many of the "farmers" seem to have a hard time deciding what they want to do with their lives.
Powerful performances make the most of the material. David Thewlis gives the camp commandant an unsettling combination of brutality and humanity, and as his wife, Vera Farmiga undergoes a heart-stopping transformation from dutiful wife to outraged witness.
But it's Asa Butterfield's Bruno - wide-eyed, questioning, yearning to connect - who steals the picture.