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Holocaust-era film an emotional ride

‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’

Rated PG-13

Grade: A

Opens Nov. 14

An emotional pummeling from a Holocaust film is certainly expected and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” delivers. Yet it completely avoids any onscreen violence by telling the story through the eyes of an adventuresome 8-year-old boy.

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Bruno - the stunningly blue-eyed Asa Butterfield - is unhappy that his family must relocate to the countryside because of his father’s (David Thewlis) prestigious promotion as commander of a Nazi concentration camp. As the family settles into their isolated home, Bruno spies a group of strange “farmers” in matching pajamas through his bedroom window and is disappointed when his parents uncomfortably dismiss the strange neighbors as inappropriate playmates.

Bruno soon grows bored and sneaks into the forbidden back garden, eventually making his way to the edge of the “farm.” Seated on the other side of the electrified fence is Schmuel (Jack Scanlon), an emaciated Jewish boy Bruno’s age. The boys soon find escape from their vastly different troubles and form a friendship.

From here the story patiently takes us through the deterioration of a family living in the unspoken presence of hatred and death under the command of the family’s patriarch. Bruno’s mother (Vera Farmiga) crumbles emotionally, his older sister (Amber Beattie) molds herself into the Nazi ideal, and Bruno begins to doubt that his father is, in fact, one of the good guys.

The film’s lack of “German-ness” (particularly the universal use of British accents) detracted from the necessary historical context of the story. But its beautiful, understated tone, including the entirely implied violence taking place inside the camp, makes the ending all the more horrifying.

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