Director: 'All the Light We Cannot See' clear call for empathy

Aria Mia Loberti stars in "All the Light We Cannot See." Photo courtesy of Netflix
1 of 5 | Aria Mia Loberti stars in "All the Light We Cannot See." Photo courtesy of Netflix

NEW YORK, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Stranger Things and Night at the Museum filmmaker Shawn Levy said it is "a little bit surreal" that his new World War II drama, All the Light We Cannot See, is premiering on Netflix as real-life battles rage in Israel and Palestine, as well as Ukraine.

"History repeats itself. Humanity can break our hearts and, yet, it is really important to reaffirm this theme of light that exists in all people," the writer-producer told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"We clearly need to be reminded of that humanity, of the need for empathy as an access point to connection and understanding," Levy said. "To be part of that reminder feels like it gives the work added weight and added value."

Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight was adapting Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 novel, All the Light We Cannot See, just as Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022.


"It's sort of uncanny and it's almost discomfiting at first," Knight said of the timing. "These are universal themes and these are things that happen and repeat themselves. It's our job, perhaps, to point out the repetition."

Set to premiere on Thursday, the four-part limited series stars Nell Sutton, Aria Mia Loberti, Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Laurie and Louis Hofmann.

The story follows Marie-Laure, a blind French girl and her father, professor Daniel LeBlanc, who flee German-occupied Paris with a priceless diamond -- that has supposed mystical powers -- in an effort to keep it from falling into the hands of the Nazis.

After her father disappears, Marie-Laure transmits illegal, coded radio broadcasts as part of the resistance, attracting the attention of the enemy.

Werner is a brilliant German teenager with skills in radio technology, enlisted to hunt down and arrest Marie-Laure. Instead, he does everything he can to protect her so she can continue her mission, even though it comes at great personal risk.

Knight said he wanted to capture the essence of the best-selling novel, which powerfully portrays the conflict between light and darkness.

"What I had to do was find the stepping stones that told the story, but also find the characters, allow them to have their voices, allow them to interact in ways that are not in the book sometimes," the writer said.


"Hopefully, the most important thing is to do justice to the spirit of the book."

Levy lauded Knight for keeping the story's momentum going, while lingering appropriately on its more heartfelt scenes.

"The book is both a page turner and poignant. The way it is structured back and forth between time periods, back and forth between the boy and the girl, we wanted to retain that propulsive, compelling world and pace," Levy said.

"Steven did so really well, but also with a certain lyrical quality, a certain emotional quality," he added. "Keeping both of those dimensions from the book to the screen was really important to us."

An epic production of this scale comes with a lot of moving parts. So, what was the biggest challenge for the filmmakers?

"I know the answer should be the war sequences or the special effects or the practical effects and the coordination of extras and vehicles, and all of that was daunting and complicated," Levy said.

"But I think the biggest challenge was that I cast amazing girls -- one of whom was 7 or 8, one of whom was in her early 20s -- neither of whom had ever acted before," he said of Loberti and Nell Sutton, who play Marie-Laure at different ages.


"The biggest challenge was getting the authenticity of these two lead actresses who were themselves blind and, basically, teaching them the job of acting while they were doing the job of acting."

Hofmann had about a decade of performance experience under his belt before taking on the role of Werner.

"I just kind of marveled at how he understands how little it takes to convey something on screen and the subtlety of a performance, the expressiveness in a look or a tiny, minute gesture in his face," Levy said.

"He understands that you can convey a whole person through very little and you have to trust the camera and trust the frame and Louis has that in a what is well beyond his years. I think it is a beautiful performance."

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