The novel All the Light We Cannot See is now available on Netflix as a limited series. Starring Louis Hofmann, Mark Ruffalo, and Lars Eidinger, this World War II story is a captivating drama. The plot follows a blind French girl named Marie and her father, Daniel, as they flee German-occupied Paris with a legendary diamond to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Nazis. They are relentlessly pursued by a cruel Gestapo officer who seeks to possess the precious gem.
The stone, for his own selfish means, Marie and Daniel soon find refuge in San Malo, where they take up residence with a reclusive uncle who transmits clandestine radio broadcasts as part of the resistance. Marie’s path also collides with the unlikeliest of kindred spirits, Verrer, a brilliant teenager enlisted by Hitler’s regime to track down illegal broadcasts. Instead, he shares a secret connection to Marie, as well as her faith in humanity and the possibility of hope.
Even though I mentioned her name last in the intro, Arya Mia Liberti is truly the star of this series as the blind protagonist. Marie Liberti delivers a captivating performance that feels 100% natural despite this being her very first acting gig. Director Sean Levy strived for authenticity with the casting of Marie, so he searched for a blind actress who could nail the part.
After a worldwide casting call, the production found both the young version of Marie and the older one that we spend the majority of the time with. Now, had I not read that this was Liberti’s starting acting job, I’d never have known because she commands the screen with an enveloping presence, just disappearing into the role and more than holding her own with the other seasoned actors in the cast.
She has charisma, excellent intuition, and some natural comedic timing, making her more engaging with each passing scene. But then, she’s complimented by the performances of Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie, and they’re wonderful on screen. But apparently, the accents of these supposed French residents weren’t a sticking point for the production. Neither Ruffalo nor Laurie have any sort of convincing French accent, with Ruffalo wavering all over the place and Laurie staying much more in the British tone of voice. Now, these aren’t areas that ruin the film, but it did stand out with the absence of the French accents. But then, on the other side, several of the German characters, are portrayed by German actors, so the accent is perfect and convincing.
Louis Hofmann, who I will always associate with Jonas from Dark, plays the genius young radio operator who is forced to track radio broadcasts so that he can then eliminate any resistance fighters. Now, as Verrückt, Hofmann is excellent in showcasing innocence and trepidation. It’s easy to feel the fear and hesitation that he has at being forced to do his duty, and it’s so prevalent in his body language and his eyes, instantly conveying to us that he’s forced into this situation and would gladly be out of the Nazis’ grasp. Now, the story as a whole is predictable, following a fairly simple trajectory. Some elements I think are meant to come about as surprises.
I don’t really think, though, that the story is actually that clever or obscured that you can’t figure out what’s going on and what’s going to happen well before it does. It’s just like with the accents. I mean, this didn’t ruin the story for me. I was much more enamored by the characters and their interactions than I was with the light mystery that was taking place. Now, even though we own the novel, I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t speak to how closely this series sticks to the source. But what we were presented within the four episodes is a tight and concise narrative that paints not only a dreary picture of war but also showcases a story that’s filled with hope and determination. While those are at opposing sides, I mean, the contrast, it works well, crafting large amounts of dramatic tension, heartbreaks, and joyful anticipation. And when I say concise, I don’t mean this is a short series.
Each of the episodes is about an hour, so it’s going to take a small chunk of time to binge. But there’s very little fluff that’s included. Story progression is efficient, creating urgency when needed for anxiety or excitement, and then using softer and quieter moments to detail out character interactions and development. And something I appreciate within the story is while the main portion of the plot centers around Marie, we do get a fair amount of time with Verrer, seeing some of his upbringing and establishing how he became engulfed in the Nazis.
So we can sympathize with him and then understand the heart of his character. Now, one of the other main characters within the story is a German Gestapo officer who’s pursuing Marie and her dad to obtain the rare stone. Now, the lore around the stone is intriguing, but it’s also a bit vague in all that it’s supposed to be able to do. And honestly, we don’t need a Marvel Infinity Stone type of detailing on it. The point is that it’s valuable and this dude is after it. And the reason he’s after it, though, it’s also a little vague. I mean, we know his motivation, but I kept wondering what was going on with him that would lead him to such great lengths to find it.
The setting of San Malo is a walled peninsula-type location, kind of like a sprawling castle that’s mostly surrounded by water. The aerial shots we get of the city, they’re wonderful. And while I’m sure that a lot of it at points is digital or even just augmented to showcase war damage, the sunsets dipping below homes and buildings create a beauty that belies the tragedy that the town is experiencing. And I also appreciate the intimacy of so many of the scenes. Because Marie is blind, we’re shown in detail how her hands move around objects and surfaces to definitely control or activate something.
The camera will also focus on her face, capturing the innocence and the beauty in her eyes and their incredible expressiveness, despite not seeing what’s in front of them. Now, I found it easy to become sucked into the story arc and binge the entire series. The drama that’s created is enthralling, despite its obviousness. And it’s told in such a manner that I couldn’t wait to experience the next portion of the story. One or two of the episodes, end with a cliffhanger, which I think is a bit odd since all episodes dropped together. But I guess if you’re watching it and it gets late, and then you consider maybe saving some for the next day, that cliffhanger may entice you to keep the binge going.
The emotional arcs that are created between the characters, earn our attention. And for me, at least, they were worthy of losing a bit of sleep in order to press on through the story. So overall, ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ is a moving drama, using a battered and war-torn French town as its backdrop. Louis Hofmann, Mark Ruffalo, and Hugh Laurie deliver wonderful performances, but they’re wildly overshadowed by the presence and charisma of first-time actor Arya Mia Liberty. And for as enjoyable as the story is with emotional beats and anxiety-filled moments, what makes this a must-see series is Liberté. She dominates every scene, perfectly capturing the innocence, strength, and determination of a fighter who is way more adept and capable than the world assumes. Sean Levy struck gold in this casting, and I can’t wait to see what else Liberté does on screen.
While some of the accents are unconvincing and trajectories are predictable, the draw of the story comes from the beauty of words that are shared across the airwaves, providing hope and calm in a turbulent time. There’s no sex or nudity, some profanity, and a bunch of violence. I give ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ four and a half out of five couches. And this was a stellar series.