Perhaps the least one would like to see on screen at this time is more diaries of war and destruction, but that did not prevent the series “All the Light We Cannot See” from topping the views on the Netflix platform.
The short series, limited to 4 episodes, is based on the novel of the same title, published in 2014 by American writer Anthony Dower.
Transferring a 550-page novel to the screen was a major challenge for Canadian director and producer Shawn Levy and British screenwriter Steven Knight. What doubled this challenge was the popularity achieved by this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which sold 15 million copies around the world.
It is the story of Marie-Laure Leblanc, the blind French woman, and the German soldier Werner Fenning, and the road between them paved with blood due to the hostility of their countries during World War II. There is only one broadcast on the radio that extends a thread between them to weave the narrative and form its backbone.
From the orphanage where he grew up, to the brutal training camp where he moved because of his excellence in installing radio equipment and capturing waves, Werner listens to wave 1310. The professor’s voice comes to him to make him forget some of the horrors of his diary. “The Professor” addresses the rising generation to open their horizons to science, philosophy, and the meanings of life, away from the noise of war.
On the other side of Germany, and from her home in Paris, where she lives with her father, “Marie” has been listening to “the Professor” since childhood. He illuminates the darkness of her eyes, especially when he repeats: “The most important lights are the ones you cannot see.”
Stone of eternal life
From Paris to Saint-Malo in northwestern France, Marie and her father, the director of a museum, move after the intensity of the occupation intensifies, and on the eve of the intervention of the American-led coalition forces to liberate the country from the Germans. In the sea city, the girl discovers a lot about “The Professor,” and there she also receives the radio to become the voice that soldier “Werner” listens to.
Trapped by fire and gunpowder, and alone at home, Mary makes calls to her father, who had to leave. He carried with him the secret of a precious stone that grants eternal life to its bearer, and left. Following the traces of that jewel, a German officer searches for “Mary.” He wants to find the stone at all costs, as he is sick and on the verge of death.
Meanwhile, Marie, with instructions from her uncle Etienne, sends veiled signals and coordinates via radio, which help locate and target the German enemy’s locations. Her plan is not hidden from the German officers, who assign her avid listener, “Werner,” to search for her and kill her. The mission seems impossible for a soldier who has not been afflicted by cruelty, despite the brutality of the camp and the horrors of war.
Blame the language
The series follows the rhythm of flashbacks to the characters’ pasts and then returns to their present. There are many time transitions that may sometimes tire the viewer and make him lose context.
The scenario moves between Mary’s childhood surrounded by her father and his great love and care. He teaches her how to find her way in the vast streets of Paris and its crowded alleys. He takes her to the Museum of Natural Sciences where he works. He trains her to turn her loss of sight from a curse into a blessing. When they move from the capital to Saint-Malo, he builds a wooden model of her that matches the city’s streets and houses, so that she doesn’t get lost in it.
As for Werner, he separates himself from his sister from inside the orphanage to join the German army. He undergoes training that has nothing humane about it, and then sets out on his search for “Mary.”
The series is criticized for its slow movement, especially in the first episode. What is also surprising is that his original language is English, knowing that the events take place between French and Germans, and knowing also that Netflix has previously invested in huge productions that transcend the boundaries of the language. The viewer may feel that it would have been more natural and spontaneous if the characters spoke in their mother tongue, without the actors creating accents that seemed artificial.
Light Aria Mia Loretti
In contrast to the criticisms, among which critics cited the series’ lack of faithfulness to the text of Anthony Dower’s book and its characters, there are some points of light. Perhaps actress Aria Mia Loretti, who played the character “Mary,” is the brightest of these lights. Director Shawn Levy selected her from among thousands of applicants for the role. He insisted that she be truly blind, not just an act.
Loreti gives the role sincerity and deep meaning, and she also shines a light on the series, forming a lifeline for the work as a whole. The young American woman, who specializes in philosophy, communication sciences, and political science, has nothing to do with acting, and she had not even undergone training or any performance experience before standing in front of Levy’s camera. The director bet on her because of her “obvious intelligence and radiance in front of the camera,” and he won.
Among those who gave a captivating performance was Nell Sutton as “Mary” when she was young. Despite her eight years, Sutton attracts attention with her professionalism and melts hearts with her spontaneity. The two girls outperformed their professional colleagues, such as Mark Ruffalo as Mary’s father, and Hugh Laurie as Uncle Etienne.
To the series’ credit, the bombing scenes are also excellently executed, including high-quality special effects. It is known that Netflix did not skimp on production work, and filming moved between Budapest, Hungary, and Saint-Malo, France.
Away from the scenes of destruction and human losses, the short series carries a message full of humanity and feelings that goes beyond the ugliness of war. Certainly, there is no more appropriate time for such a message!
The post first appeared on aawsat.com