Question of approach to the historical fresco: while Apple TV+ grants over $200 million budget to Martin Scorsese to chronicle the secret war between wealthy Indians and greedy, starving whites in the three-and-a-half-hour funeral and anti-climactic kolossal Killers of the Flower Moon (here our review of Killers of the Flower Moon), the rival on-demand streaming platform Netflix leans toward the easier and more marketable mini-series format (in four episodes of about one hour each) for the equally ambitious project of All the Light We Cannot See, an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Anthony Doerr.
directed by Shawn Levy – director of several episodes as well as producer of Stranger Things and of The Adam Project, but also of the next Deadpool 3 – and written by Steven Knight – the acclaimed screenwriter of Spencer and Eastern Promises as well as creator of the epic Peaky Blinders – the mini-series tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and her father, Daniel LeBlanc, who flee German-occupied Paris with a legendary diamond to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Nazis.. Hounded relentlessly by a cruel Gestapo officer who wants to seize the gemstone for his own self-interest, Marie-Laure and Daniel soon find refuge in St. Malo, where they go to live with a lonely uncle who broadcasts clandestine transmissions for the resistance.
Her story unknowingly but inevitably intersects with that of an unlikely soul mate, Werner, an orphaned teenage genius enlisted by Hitler’s regime for his skill in electronics and sent to the front to track down the illegal radio broadcasts, who, however, along with his sister grew up precisely by listening to the lectures of Marie’s uncle – known as the Professor – and who continues to listen to her today, and protect her from fellow Nazis unbeknownst to everyone and at the risk of their own lives.
All the light we cannot see: drama and emotions
With All the Light We Cannot See, Netflix returns to that World War II with which it won last year’s Oscar for Best International Film with All Quiet on the Western Front.
Steven Knight, for years among the best pens around (who had already tackled wartime spy intrigue in Allied and who with Peaky Blinders had investigated the social hardships that had made Nazi ideas find fertile ground in the first half of the 20th century), is skilled at sketching three-dimensional characters without lapsing into cliché (the danger of the good Hitler soldier, as well as that of the evil and insane villain, with the subplot of the diamond that according to legend has magical healing powers that cannot help but bring to mind the world of Indiana Jones), while Levy is particularly careful to tell the details of a world ‘seen’ from the perspective of a blind person..
In this sense the two protagonists are excellent, newcomer Aria Mia Loberti – discovered by Levy during a global casting in which blind and visually impaired actresses participated- and Louis Hofmann, who stand out in a cast of big names such as Mark Ruffalo, Lars Eidinger and Hugh Laurie. However, the broad production scope that All the Light We Cannot See evidently seeks over its four episodes remains only hinted at: the plot so connected to the radio world explicit already a work of many words and few images – if we want a metaphor for the protagonist’s situation – but the line between artistic choice and escamotage is particularly subtle in this case (if in the background there is La Suite bergamasque by Debussy almost anything can be forgiven).
Certainly above the average to which Netflix subscribers are accustomed and handkerchiefs will be wasted left and right if you are a person particularly prone to tears (the writer is), yet the feeling that the attainment of absolute greatness remained a few steps beyond where we stopped remains strong.