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There's an urgency in human nature to understand. When it comes to the
Holocaust, history's bleak, unsettling period, it doesn't matter what
book you've read, film you've seen or account you've heard; in the end,
your response it halted by its incomprehensible conclusion. How could
humanity course its way towards such a violent, destructive path? How
could people knowingly send men, women, and children to their impending
doom? Most puzzling, how could the world allow it? Even though its been
63 years since the blood-drenched annals of World War II, its aftermath
today is still bone chilling.
After a six year celluloid dry spell, Stephen Daldry returns to the director's chair in a brilliant, sexually charged, and oddly heartbreaking tale about the complexity of human morality and the lifelong repercussions that result from our actions. Adapted from Bernhard Schlink's best-selling German novel, "The Reader," Daldry's visual translation is a powerful, emotionally absorbing film that is one of the year's best. It's superbly crafted.
With World War II over, Germany, in 1958, is still recovering. Deep within Heidelberg, Germany, Michael (David Kross), a young pubescent teenager haven fallen ill, is comforted by Hanna (Kate Winslet), a hard working woman who is twice his age. Taken by her generosity, Michael revisits Hanna to offer his gratitude. What begins as an awkward reunion escalates into a seductive, forbidden affair that intensifies when Michael begins reading to the distant, empty Hanna, who is deeply awakened by Michael's spoken literature. Too young to understand love's complicated implications, Michael is emotionally devastated when Hanna suddenly disappears. Nearly a decade later, unable to forget his passionate summer while studying law, he attends a Nazi trail, and to his dismay, hears Hanna's distant voice.
"The Reader" is a complex film; maybe a little too complex for some. Though the film pertains to Nazism and the "sins of our fathers," in essence, "The Reader" is a film that reflects the emotions inside all of us. During a lecture, Michael's professor comments, "Societies like to think they operate on morality but they don't." In this cynical age, how far from reality is that statement? During Hanna's trial, she's questioned why she participated in the Nazi party's horrendous war crimes, broken she replies, "It was my job." Oddly enough, that seems to be the justification most people use. Surprisingly, though, "The Reader" isn't about her exposure as a war criminal, but an exposure on an individual who took the wrong path. She's not a bad person; she's simply made wrong choices. However, when it comes to having involvement in the Nazi's liquidation of the Jews, how "wrong" can you get? "You ask us to think like lawyers," cries on student, "what are we trying to do?" A distraught Michael replies, "We are trying to understand!" But, just who exactly is trying to grasp a deeper understanding: the court or Michael? How can Hanna's past be forgiven? Director Stephen Daldry brings the much needed emotional layer that a character such as Hanna Schmitz desperately needs. Although her actions are beyond unforgivable, strangely, we sympathize with her. Maybe it's her other shameful secret. Maybe it's superb character development.
"The Reader" is a film that is driven by it's raw performances. In one of her finest hours, Kate Winslet gives the performance of a lifetime. It's a haunting and heart-breaking. David Kross, who's only 18, is impressive as the teenager with raging hormones; it's such a daring performance. Winselt and Kross bring this picture together. Their performances are jaw-droppingly brilliant. Completing the role of Michael, as the tortured grown man, is Ralph Fiennes, who balances Michael's despair through his melancholic emotion when he encounters a grown Jewish woman, played by Lena Olin, who was also at Hanna's trail. Although her scenes clock in less than 10 minutes, Olin, too, is breathtaking.
When "The Reader's" credits rolled, I sat quietly shaken by what I had witnessed. It's a film that is impossible to forget. When a grown Michael asks Hanna, "Have you spent much time thinking about the past?" Heartbroken, she replies, "It doesn't matter what I think. It doesn't matter what I feel. The dead are still dead." She's right.
The film is a series of profound moral dilemmaswhile contrived by the
author, they are fair questionsthat resonate deeply in the 21st
Century: The role of guilt in victims, perpetrators, individuals and
collectively, as well as justice, forgiveness, redemption, shame and,
of course, literacy and its role in Western thought.
All this is a pretty heady mix for a film, but Stephen Daldry (as with "The Hours" ) makes literary conceit play very naturally here. David Hare's screenplay and the remarkable cinematography of the always remarkable Roger Deakins together with a sensitive score by Nico Muhly, this is indeed rarefied film-making.
But the actors are what drag the audience into this story. David Kross is amazing as the young Michael who has to play a range of virginal innocent to wizened and bitter. It's the key role in the film, and we're all lucky he was found to play this role. And the ever confounding Kate Winslet. What an amazing career for this young actress! Running through a list of her credits, she has some of the best performances of the last decade: "Holy Smoke," "Eternal Sunshine ," "Iris," "Finding Neverland," "Little Children." But here she does something very different. Playing what amounts to a monster, we see that they too are human. Not many actresses could bring this off, but it may be her greatest accomplishment to date.
Ralph Fiennes brings a continuity to the work David Kross begins, and there's a brief appearance by Lena Olin who commands the dignity the role deserves.
I'm puzzled at the lukewarm reception to this film. I almost missed seeing it. And it turned out to be one of my favorite and the most heart-rending films of the year. All involved should be very proud.
Very well acted and presented and a faithful representation of the main points of the novel on which it is based. This film encourages us to look closely at very difficult issues surrounding the atrocities of World War II. I am at a loss to understand why so many critics have been so damning of it. Perhaps it is too subtle for them to understand. It seeks to outlaw the false and intellectually lazy theory to explain the holocaust, namely that the horrors were committed by monsters. In its place we are offered contextualization, not as excuse but as explanation of how quite ordinary people were able to do extraordinarily dreadful things. We avoid these uncomfortable facts at our peril.
The Reader is one of my favorite movies from the year 2008. It is
incredibly complex in the way you react to the characters of the movie.
It carries many emotions from sensuality to anger all the way back to
that of sympathy and resolution. Many moves advertise themselves as
unbiased and fair but nothing gets close to that like The Reader which
is able to build sympathy for a character you would never think you
could feel towards.
The acting in the movie was phenomenal. Especially that of Kate Winslet who draws out many emotions from whoever is watching. She plays an ex-Nazi guard who has an affair with a 16 year old boy played very well by David Kross. Her bitter, cold attitude, random behavior as well as her past history seems unjustifiable and deplorable. Yet you can do nothing more than feel empathy and compassion towards the shame and humiliation she feels about her one well kept secret. In the course of her affair she ask for one thing, to be read to. From this do you see the humanity within her. Ralph Fiennes also gave quite a nice performance as an older Michael Berg who looks back on his life and then later finds a way to open himself up through his time of self reflection and sudden realizations towards life. David Kross plays the younger Michael Berg whose performance was undoubtedly a very good one, maintaining his presence in not letting himself being totally overshadowed. Overall the performances are very deep and will keep you thinking long after you have seen the movie.
The directing and writing also was very key to the emotions felt in this movie. Every scene had to be done precisely and consistently to feel genuinely touched rather than feeling falsely drawn in. Stephen Daldry did that under his great subtle direction. The writing by David Hare allowed actors such as Ralph Fiennes, David Kross and of course Kate Winslet to give such stunning and deep performances and take the film to another level.
I found this movie to be very compelling in many ways. The emotions felt here were not cheap gimmicks but that of feeling true sympathy and forgiveness towards what we would normally describe as something wrong, shameful and reprehensible. I can't remember another film that made me feel these emotions for a character especially after learning one startling secret after another. This film succeeded in ways that almost movie would likely fail in, it did not come off as generous or light but as remarkably fair as a film or any type of medium can get shedding light on both sides of the spectrum. This is a film that is amazingly thought provoking and will bring out the humanity within all of us and should not be missed.
Kate Winslet is just outstanding in this very interesting film that is
almost two stories-in-one. The first part is a sexual story of an older
woman having affairs with a teenage boy and the second part is her war
crimes tale and what happens afterward. The first is a somewhat happy
jaunt of a short story and the second is a very serious and depressing
story. That's where Winslet really shines. Obviously, she's developed
into an an outstanding actress.
The second part is what most people, I assume, will remember about this film. Can "Hanna Schmitz," a Nazi employee (so to speak), who was part of concentration camps, be a sympathetic character? To me, that's what it looked like that's the question the story was asking. The answer may have come in the final minutes of the movie when her ex-lover "Michael Berg," now grown up and played by Ralph Fiennes, confronts a survivor of the camp. That, too, was very intense and interesting scene. Lena Olin is riveting as "Rose/Illana Mather."
"The Reader" was full of quiet, but intense scenes. This is a very thought-provoking film, especially for one that doesn't start off that way but look almost like some soft-porn flick to get our attention. It is anything but that.
For Germans, this film must bring out many emotions and thoughts. Guilt and forgiveness are just two of the issues that are dealt with in this unique film. "Hanna Schmitz" turns out to be an incredibly simple-yet-complex person, unlike any I've encountered on film in a long time. You see her in all kinds of light, both good and bad.
Kudos, too, to David Kross' acting as the young Michael Berg. It must be strange for someone his age (barely turned 18) to do the scenes he did with 30-something Winslet.
Overall, a very different and excellent film that stays with you and makes you ponder its main characters.
Stephen Daldry knows how to tell a story, knows how important it is to make each of those characters relevant and indispensable, more importantly, emotions are finely portrayed, but it is the cerebral quality of his work that both impresses and irritates the audience. Somehow, he let go of his control and made "Billy Elliot" exuberant and glorious, with each note and emotion spilling out of the screen. His restraint might have lessened the impact of the dark nature of the tragedy in "The Hours"; somehow the balance continues in "The Reader", a powerful testament to the complexity of humans and their interactions. In "The Reader" learning occurs, consequences, origins, and motivations are carefully explored and analyzed, leaving out some of the mystery for us to decide. Choice is key here, and some choices are carry a bigger weight than others. The marvelous Kate Winslet, who should be honoured for the quality of her work, with as much recognition as it is humanly possible portrays the central character of the story, a woman whose life might have been shaped by unfortunate events, mostly undisclosed to us, and some of her own genetic makeup. We, as the lawyers and the students in the film, get to evaluate the evidence and choose to make a statement to justify hers and our own ethical standpoints. It is the intricate and deft interpretation of Hannah that anchors the story. Although, the story follows Michael and their relationship from his teenage years to the devastating conclusion, the film succeeds because Winslet is able to show every bit of the confusion, rationale, and emotion that her character possesses. She seems cold and detached, but as we look, we discover that there is more to her than we can see from the moments we see her on the screen. Hannah carries secrets inside her soul, somehow keeping herself alive, surviving, living an austere existence that hypnotizes, seduces, and repulses those she encounters. Michael is seduced by this mysterious woman, and his own future is shaped by those moments they spend together. What he doesn't realize is how big of an effect their time together will have on his life. Their early scenes are powerful and presented with a strong sense of realism and brevity. They're probable the best of the film and might have to be reviewed to understand how key they are to the further growth of Michael's life and reactions to others. Winslet does not say much, but her manipulations provoke her desired effects. As their paths diverge and meet, their relationship changes as one observes the dramatic turn of events that brings them together again, and how Michael's actions have dire consequences for both of them. It is during this period that we think we begin to see how relative everything: what is moral and immoral, logic and emotional, simple and complex. Highs and lows are hit again, as we become more involved in one of the most powerful and dramatic moments of their lives. In the final act of the film is when Winslet and Feines do some of their most outstanding work ever; she even surpassing her masterful turns in "Revolutionary Road", and "Eternal Sunshine". Every gesture, every look, every enunciation add details and shed light to who they were, are and might become. It is subtle work, haunting, and bewitching, the work very few people are able to do. "The Reader" reaches its amazing conclusion with a couple of scenes that might break whatever little strength we might still have left. "The Reader" isn't an important work, but it is a work that should be recognized by the quality of its work, a finely tuned and produced piece of cinema by people who recognize how magical, powerful, and intelligent films can be.
Kate Winslet, I absolutely adore her, she's my favorite actress of all
time. I still can't believe that she hadn't won an Oscar, her first
nomination was in 1995 with Sense and Sensibility. Finally after 14
long years, she finally won the coveted award with the movie The
Reader. I finally was able to see this movie the other day and it blew
me away, I'm still debating if this really was my favorite Kate Winslet
performance, but once again with a strong cast telling a powerful
story, The Reader was definitely one of the best films out of 2008. So
many holocaust films have been made, it's hard to make another that
stands out, but we really haven't had a story where the Nazi guards
were on trial. A lot of people debate if this movie is trying too hard
to push sympathy on Kate Winslet's character, but my love for this film
is to just show that they were human as well, hard to believe, but that
our mothers, sisters, friends, whoever could have done something so
Michael Berg in 1995 Berlin watches an S-Bahn pass by, flashing back to a tram in 1958 Neustadt. A teenage Michael gets off because he is feeling sick and wanders around the streets afterwards, finally pausing in the entryway of a nearby apartment building where he vomits. Hanna Schmitz, the tram conductor, comes in and assists him in returning home. The 36 year old Hanna seduces and begins an affair with the 15 year old boy. During their liaisons, at her apartment, he reads to her literary works he is studying. After a bicycling trip, Hanna learns she is being promoted to a clerical job at the tram company. She abruptly moves without leaving a trace. The adult Michael, a lawyer, at Heidelberg University law school in 1966. As part of a special seminar taught by Professor Rohl, a camp survivor, he observes a trial of several women who were accused of letting 300 Jewish women die in a burning church when they were SS guards on the death march following the 1944 evacuation of Auschwitz. Hanna is one of the defendants. Stunned, Michael visits a former camp himself. The trial divides the seminar, with one student angrily saying there is nothing to be learned from it other than that evil acts occurred and that the older generation of Germans should kill themselves for their failure to act then. But Michael is conflicted on what to do, if to speak out on Hannah's behalf on some of her innocence in the murders or keep quiet.
This is one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen, it was so incredible and just heart breaking. One of the things I respected about the film was the way they handled the awkward "love story" between Michael and Hannah, she's older, he's younger, but it's not even a perverted thing, so strange to say that. I don't know how to put it exactly, but their connection was real and in some sense they both needed each other. If you have the chance to see this movie, I seriously suggest that you take it, the powerful performances really make this film captivating. The story is so heart wrenching and painful, but was told so well. Kate now finally has the award she's deserved for so long and pulls in a terrific performance with The Reader.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This isn't meet-cute. Fifteen-year-old schoolboy Michael Berg (David
Kross) first encounters his 36-year-old future lover Hanna Schmitz
(Kate Winslet) by throwing up in her doorway. It's a dismal rainy day
in a German city in 1958 and he has taken ill on the way home from
school. She cleans him up and accompanies him to his family. He turns
out to have scarlet fever, and is kept at home for months. Once he's
well again he goes back carrying a bunch of flowers to thank Hanna for
her kindness, but realizes he's turned on, and bolts in embarrassment
while she's bathing. Eventually Michael returns and happily loses his
virginity. A regular ritual of reading, bathing, and lovemaking
develops between him and Hanna. He reads to her; she bathes him; the
sex is mutual. She is a tram conductor with a harsh manner, and several
huge secrets. She seems to be using Michael, but she's also enjoying
him mightily, and he is reaping enormous rewards, though his affair
puts pressure on his relations with family and schoolmates.
Bernhard Schlink's original The Reader was an international bestseller. A lawyer and judge who writes, Schlink departed from his usual detective stories with this novel that becomes a meditation on Nazism--the denial of the surviving participants and the incomprehension of Germans like Michael who were born in the aftermath. Michael's feelings toward Hanna become much more complicated than simply those of a youth introduced to love by an older woman--as complicated as the feelings of Germans about the demons in their modern past. As for Hanna, she seems to understand nothing and to be more concerned about how she appears than what she has done.
The book is in three parts. First there is the love affair of the schoolboy and the tram conductor, which ends abruptly and painfully when Hanna suddenly disappears. In the second part it's eight years later and Michael is a law student attending trials of Nazis with fellow students and their seminar teacher, Professor Rohl (Bruno Ganz). One day the young man is horrified and riveted to learn one of the defendants is none other than his long lost Hanna. She turns out to have been an SS guard at a satellite of Auschwitz and she's on trial with five other women for allegedly allowing several hundred prisoners to burn to death locked inside a church. This trial paralyzes Michael. He has never gotten over his first, interrupted love idyll with Hanna. Now he is filled with guilt for having loved her but also a sense that he should help her when he realizes he has information that might lower her sentence.
The last part, thirty years later, consists of several brief visits by Michael, first to Hanna in prison, then to the posh Manhattan flat of a Jewish woman, Rose Mather (Lena Olin), who was at the trial. She was one of the survivors and wrote a book about her experiences that was used in evidence. This provides a kind of coda.
Schlink's novel is neat and arresting, a page-turner that conceivably makes you think. Its Holocaust issues are cunningly intertwined with a sensuous--and rather peculiar--coming-of-age story told by a sensitive man still struggling to understand his experience and his country's. I read the book with interest, but found it a bit contrived. This together with Stephen Daldry's previous choice to film Michael Cunningham's The Hours shows a weakness on the English director's part for stories that are a little too clever and schematic.
This time the screenplay by the British playwright David Hare does damage to the book by altering its chronology, chopping it up and muddling the original linear three-part structure. Hare has said in interviews that the interpolated device of Michael's telling his story to his grown daughter was necessary to make sense of his voice-over. (That,however, is debatable.) Having settled on this device, Hare felt obligated to keep interjecting the mature Michael, played by Ralph Fiennes, at points throughout the film. The omnipresence of Fiennes' glum face undermines the sense of the young Michael's eagerness and, later, shock and confusion.
Fiennes as Michael revisits a cosmetically aged Kate Winslet as Hanna three decades later when she is about to be released from prison. Michael could never bring himself to visit her, but sent her tapes of himself reading the same books he read to her during their affair. Fiennes is a cold fish, hard to relate to the lively and sweet personality of young David Kross.
The film is hampered from the outset by its use of the outmoded artifice of dramatizing a story that takes place in another country and another language and yet having everyone speak English, with several of the main characters played by Brits (Winslet, Fiennes) putting on German accents. Bruno Ganz speaks with less of a German accent than they do.
There is much of interest in this glossy production, beautifully photographed on location by two of the best DP's in the business, Chris Menges and Roger Deakins. Ganz's professor is an ambiguous, subtle characterization. But since the drama of the unfolding story has been destroyed by breaking it up into pieces, the only thing that remains alive and beautiful and strange are the love scenes between Kross and Winslet. There is good chemistry between the 18-year-old Kross and the 34-year-old Winslet, and their nude scenes are bold and intimate. It's only when the machinery of what Schlink and the filmmakers are trying to tell us about German guilt and denial goes into action that things begin to be clunky and cold. Unfortunately, that is a big part of the picture.
David Hare wrote one of my favorite female characters in "Plenty", Meryl Streep brought her to life in the most extraordinary way. Here, Hare writes another power house female character. It doesn't have the intellectual aspirations of "Plenty" but there is also a form of mental illness in his character. Kate Winslet is magnificent. Her early scenes with the wonderful David Kross are filled with compelling, contradictory and totally believable undertones. My misgivings are to be pinned on Stephen Daldry, the director. His sins as a filmmaker start to become a sort of trade mark, visible and palpable in the moving "Billy Elliot" and the shattering "The Hours" I can't quite pinpoint what it is but in "The Reader" that element is more obvious than in the other two. Maybe it has to do with loftiness. There are moments so frustratingly long and slow here that he lost me in more than one occasion. In any case, the cast makes this film a rewarding experience. Besides Kate Winslet and David Kross. The tortured Ralph Finnes has a couple of wonderful moments as well as Bruno Ganz and Lina Olin in a dual role.
We don't know. We think we do but we don't. We make decisions or
sometimes decisions are made for us but we think we've made them. Then
suddenly, there we are. We can't be certain how we got there or where
we will be when everything settles but we do know that we are alive.
Some experiences are life altering and we can run from them or embrace
them. Staying to see them through though can bring incredible bliss but
also tormented turmoil. We just never know. One such experience was had
by a young Michael Berg (David Kross) and is chronicled in Stephen
Daldry's THE READER. How could he know that when he pulled into an
alley to be sick that he would meet the woman who would shape his
entire life? How could he know that getting close to her would pull him
the furthest he's ever been from himself?
Of course, when you're a sixteen-year-old boy and a woman who looks like Kate Winslet disrobes in front of you in the privacy of her bathroom, how much thought really goes into the decision that has presented itself? However little it is, it is certainly less than is warranted. This is especially true in West Germany of 1958. This is a Germany that is uncertain how to proceed, how to be its new self in the eyes of the world and the eyes of its very own future generations. Winslet plays Hanna Schmitz, a compassionate woman but also abrasive and stern. Winslet strikes the perfect balance between directness and desire in Schmitz, making her complexities part of her appeal. She is a good fifteen years older than the young Berg and she knows much better than he of her country's history. What he knows, he has read in books, been taught in school. What she knows, she lived first hand. So when the two come together, naked in each other's arms, the meeting is as redemptive as it is passionate. Berg is just happy to be in love and having sex but Schmitz is washing herself clean with the youthful vigor of Germany's tomorrow.
The summer ends and so does the affair, as one would expect. Just when it would seem that the two would never meet again, life steps in to ensure that past decisions, perhaps made in haste, can come to see their consequences. Berg has grown some and is a college man, studying to be a lawyer, when he catches sight of Hanna Schmitz again. Their latest chance encounter is far less exciting though as he sees her on a class outing to a courthouse. Schmitz is on trial for crimes against humanity for her time as an officer in the Nazi party during the Second World War. Berg's memory of his first love would now become a question of his own morality. How could he love someone who was now accused of such atrocities? How could he be so intimate with someone he apparently never truly knew? And yet, now that he knows her past, does he really know how her past came to be? After all, what is the face of evil? Is it Hanna Schmitz or is it something incredibly bigger than her?
Ralph Fiennes is the future of Germany. He plays Berg as an adult. His life is orderly, very clean, crisp and cold. He made decisions that made him the man he is and he can never say whether they were the right ones or not. What he can see is that we all make decisions that either hurt or harm other people and that the atrocities committed by his past generations are not as far outside the realm of understanding as he might have originally thought. More importantly, redemption is not that far either.
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