All the Light We Cannot See – Toronto 2023

Aria Mia Loberti as Marie-Laure in episode 101 of All the Light We Cannot See. Photo credit: Katalin Vermes/Netflix © 2023.

Shawn Levy and Steven Knight have adapted Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See into an epic Netflix series.

All the Light We Cannot See is unlike anything in Shawn Levy’s filmography in that he’s directing a period drama for the first time. It’s not a comedy and it definitely isn’t an action movie, which has more or less filled his filmography in recent years. No matter the genre or medium, Levy brings his A game. And yet, there’s a trait here that one can find in many of his films: human connection. It might be a TV series but Levy still directs it like a feature film. It speaks to how the limited series has evolved into a cinematic format. I’ll touch on this shortly. When one watches the series, one understands why it’s a four-part series and not any longer. I had to break down my viewings into two parts. All that to say is that this is not a quick binge because of the heavy themes.

The series touches on what the Nazis were doing to the Jews during the Holocaust but the bigger focus here is on the French Resistance. This is how we meet Marie-Laure (Aria Mia Loberti and Nell Sutton), a blind French girl and her father, Daniel LeBlanc (Mark Ruffalo). The two of them are fleeing Paris for Saint-Malo, where Daniel hopes to keep the Sea of Flames hidden from the Nazis. Nazi gemologist Reinhold von Rumpel (Lars Eidinger) wants the diamond for himself and won’t stop in his efforts. It’s in Saint-Malo where Marie-Laure and Daniel move in with Daniel’s reclusive uncle, Etienne (Hugh Laurie). Interestingly enough, it’s after finding refuge in Saint-Malo that Marie-Laure crosses paths with a Nazi soldier, Werner Pfennig (Louis Hofmann). He’s not like the other Nazis in that he doesn’t want to follow his direct orders. It’s certainly something I did not see coming.

The idea of a Nazi soldier going against orders and coming off as a hero is not something one expects to see in a WW2-set series. That’s not to say that there aren’t typical Nazis in the series because there most definitely is. Reinhold von Rumpel features the usual Nazi traits that one expects to see in a film, series, or book. Werner, not so much. Maybe it’s because of his background as an orphan and listening to French radio before being accepted into a Nazi boarding school because of his technological skills.

We follow Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives over a ten-year period. While I haven’t read the source material, adapting the novel as a limited series is a genius idea. A decade ago, it’s possible that one could adapt it as a feature film but it would have been unable to Doerr’s novel justice. Thankfully, limited series have evolved into the leading format for cinematic storytelling at the TV level. Shawn Levy and company film the series in Budapest, Saint-Malo, and Villefranche-de-Rouergue (Aveyron department, south of France). The latter serves as a double because it looks similar to the city before the war. Behind the scenes, there’s so much care that goes into the production. I cannot say enough good things about the production design, costume design, musical score, cinematography, and editing.

It’ll be a while before audiences will be able to stream the groundbreaking four-part limited series on Netflix but I have to applaud the production for its efforts in authentic representation in casting a pair of blind performers. It isn’t just the representation but they also hired a dedicated Blindness and Accessibility Consultant, Joe Strechay. The series is celebrating its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where newcomer Aria Mia Loberti is a TIFF Share Her Journey Fellow. How about that taking home that honor after leading a TV series for the first time?!? She earned the role after the production looked at thousands of actresses across the globe. What’s more astonishing is that she is leading a series despite not having any training as an actress. If this isn’t enough, she is also Fulbright Scholar with a Master’s Degree and is studying for her Ph. D.

Netflix has another awards contender in the cinematic All the Light We Cannot See. It’s a beautifully told story and is groundbreaking on so many levels.

DIRECTOR: Shawn Levy
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Steven Knight
CAST: Aria Mia Loberti, Louis Hofmann, Lars Eidinger, Marion Bailey, Nell Sutton, with Hugh Laurie and Mark Ruffalo

All the Light We Cannot See holds its world premiere during the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival in the Primetime program. Netflix will release the limited series on November 2, 2023. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.