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TIFF 2023 Review: All the Light We Cannot See

An illegal French radio broadcasts brings together the blind teenager host and a German solider tasked in finding her and ending the defiant and coded transmission.

During World War II, U.S. bombers fly over German-occupied France dropping devastation and pamphlets warning that there is more of the same to come.  While this is taking place blind teenager Marie-Laure LeBlanc hosts a radio broadcast that originated by her grandfather and the transmission is discovered by German radio operator Werner who has been a fan of the program since he was a child.  Overriding, the narrative is the disappearance of Marie-Laure’s father Daniel LeBlanc and the unknown whereabouts of the Sea of Flames stone which was under his stewardship and is believed by some to have supernatural properties.

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As explosive as the bombs being dropped in the dramatic opening sequence is the acting firepower with the likes of Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie.  However, the four-part miniseries (the first two episodes screened at TIFF) does rest on the shoulders of Aria Mia Loberti as Marie-Laurie, Louis Hofmann as Werner and Lars Eidinger as Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel.  Flashbacks that shift between adolescent and teenage years flesh out the tragic and sometimes joyful backstories for Marie-Laurie and Werner.  Of the two, Hofmann is the best at conveying a sorrowful soulfulness while Eidinger has the thankless task of being the sadistic malevolent force that weaves the two main storylines together.

There is a faerie tale quality to the imagery and the German fascination with supernatural artifacts does harken back to the Indiana Jones franchise which was inspired by Saturday matinee adventure serials.  The melodrama is unavoidable given the source material.  That is not to say humour is nonexistent as the driving scene between father and daughter is a joyride to behold.  What is surprising is the development of Shawn Levy as a filmmaker and producer as he is really expanding his genre repertoire. Steven Knight has never been a paint-by-numbers storyteller so there are narrative twists that provide an unexpected jolt of adrenaline to what at times feels like a plodding affair.

The 48th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 7-17, 2023, and for more information visit    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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