Don’t see ‘Cannot See’

Published date07 November 2023
Publication titleSignal
THE long-anticipated adaptation of Anthony Doerr’s bestselling and Pulitzer prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See is finally here. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely not

There is money behind it, it’s beautifully lit, lovingly shot — it looks gorgeous. But here’s the thing. When you are adapting a book about a blind French girl making illicit radio broadcasts in the occupied French coastal town of Saint-Malo and a reluctant German orphan snapped up by the Third Reich for his magical radio skills secretly listening every night and finding a vestige of hope therein, while dealing with questions about the value of art and life, the encroachment of evil and the possibility of redemption, you had better be pretty hot on the latter stuff or you are going to be punting down the River Twee into Triteland very quickly indeed.

Such is the journey director Shawn Levy (Stranger Things, the Night at the Museum film franchise) and writer-showrunner Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) have embraced. So, in 1944, we have teenage Marie-Laure (Aria Mia Loberti, in her first role) reading from her braille edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in between pleas for her missing father and Uncle Etienne (Hugh Laurie) to come home or let her know they are safe. Allied bombs fall around her, shattering windows picturesquely and leaving dust in her hair. “I know that broadcasting could get me killed,” she says as she replaces the microphone on the glass-sprinkled table, “but I will not be silenced.” Come back, friendly bombs, and fall on the scriptwriter.

In a terrifically French bistro nearby, an evil Nazi, Sgt Maj Reinhold von Rumpel (Lars Eidinger), is menacingly eating oysters and drinking wine served by a frightened but brave bistro owner. Von Rumpel seems to have been imported from another thing entirely — ’Allo ’Allo!, perhaps, or Raiders of the Lost Ark. The last becomes the frontrunner when it is revealed that he is hunting for a cursed gem hidden by Marie-Laure that he thinks will cure him (of cancer, not nazism). The terrifically French bistro owner declines to pass on the girl’s whereabouts: “Go to hell!” “Don’t be ridiculous,” Von Rumpel responds, because that scriptwriter bomb missed. “It is quite clear we are in hell already” — and kills him.

Meanwhile, our good orphaned unwilling Nazi...

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