FILM REVIEW - The Reader

The Reader is based on the 1995 award winning novel Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink, a German law professor.
FILM REVIEW - The Reader
The Reader is based on the 1995 award winning novel Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink, a German law professor. The 2008 British film adaptation of The Reader was written by David Hare, directed by Stephen Daldry and stars Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet, as well as newly discovered David Kross. This film has already received accolades in the form of Kate Winslet’s recent Golden Globe win, as well as controversy - in the form of some particularly erotic love scenes between Winslet and the 18 year old David Kross. This was also the last film Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack (both now dead) produced together. The Reader is the story of Michael Berg (Kross) and Hanna Schmitz (Winslet). Berg and Schmitz begin an illicit affair. He is 16 and from an upper middle class family and she is clearly working class and much older - around her late 30s. Time passes, she disappears, he grows up and becomes a lawyer and then their paths cross again as she is a defendant in a war trial, having been a prison guard during the Holocaust. Whatever way an audience looks at it, the story is brutal. This is a Holocaust film, but one trying hard to present itself in a sensitive and thoughtful way. Issues of morality, expectations, beliefs and national ignorance are dealt with in an unusually constrained manner. Both Daldry and Hare seem to be intent on creating a film that offers a level of clarity and insight into the thought processes of a German woman who openly participated in the Holocaust. Probably what is the more annoying and distracting aspect of the film, is the level of attention given to the romance between the Winslet and Kross characters. This element of the narrative seems to go on interminably. I read in a recent article about the film, that there were shades of Last Tango in Paris about the romance. The older, terse woman and the oh-so-young devoted lover. There is however a sense of uneasiness in this union, and this might be symbolic of author Bernhard Schlink touching on the unease the new Germany has experienced and is still experiencing with its past. One figure shows that “between 1945 and 1983, 88000 war crimes cases were opened in West Germany”. One of the central issues in the film’s discussions about the Holocaust centres around whether past perpetrators actually understood what they had done and why they had done it. A particularly memorable scene in the film occurs when Michael asks Hannah if she ever thinks about it (referring to the Holocaust), to which her answer was no, because until the trial there had been no reason to think about it. It is these insights and touches that make the film more engaging. And yes Winslet has won a Golden Globe, but both Kross and Fiennes in particular as the older Michael Berg present a thoughtful man that moves past lust and duty to what I think author Bernhard Schlink wanted to be seen as yet another element in cementing authentic documentation of the past.

Rita Dimasi

Wednesday 21 January, 2009

About the author

Rita Dimasi is an Arts Hub reviewer.