The refugee experience is seen through a child’s eye in Caroline Link’s (Nowhere in Africa) sensitive and elegant adaptation of Judith Kerr’s classic autobiographical novel. Adolf Hitler has not even risen to power when writer and critic Arthur Kemper (Oliver Masucci) flees Germany in 1933. He has no choice: If he stays and Hitler wins his election, prison and probably death await. And so, his family, composer and pianist Dorothea (Carla Juri) and the couple’s two children, tween Max (Marinus Hohmann) and 10-year-old Anna (Riva Krymalowski), join him in exile, first in Switzerland, then France, and eventually England. Left behind is a life of comfort and most of their things (including Anna’s beloved stuffed bunny of the title), exchanged for a hand-to-mouth existence where Arthur struggles to find work; the children are repeatedly put in the position of going to new schools, making new friends, and learning yet another new language; and the family copes with open anti-Semitism.
It is through Anna’s eyes that the story unfolds. A talented artist, she specialized in drawing disaster pictures before this real one entered life. Now, she is put in a position where she is forced to grow up in some ways: Her parents emphasize the need for discretion and also to always be polite even when faced with rudeness. The world is a dangerous place and Anna needs to keep her head down. At the same time, she’s just a little girl and she can only mature so much. She keenly misses her stuffed pink rabbit; Heimpi (Ursula Werner), the housekeeper who was like a grandmother to her and Max; and her zoologist godfather Julius (Justus Von Dohnanyi). Spying change in a fountain, her impulse is to take what other people have thrown away but that her family needs. Making her big-screen debut, Krymalowski delivers a winning performance that balances sweetness, spunk, and vulnerability.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is one of those rare family films that really is as appealing to adults as to children. It is an involving story, one that is clear enough for a child to understand with a heroine with whom it is easy to identify. For grownups who understand the full historical implications of the tale, it is a moving story of one family’s survival as the world is on the cusp of going mad.