Cinepub


Last Year In Film: The Reader by Jamie

A quick warning, spoilers ahead.

The Reader is the charming tale of Hanna Schmitz, who meets a fifteen year old boy, Michael Berg, fucks him over the duration of a summer and getting him to read to her before leaving him. Years later he becomes a law student and, whilst sitting in on a trial, learns that his former lover is a Nazi war criminal who is sentenced to life in prison for not letting three hundred Jews out of a burning church. Michael grows up to become a lawyer and Ralph Fiennes who is conflicted due to his love for a Nazi war criminal and a decision he made during the trial which potentially caused her to have a harsher sentence. In his guilt he records tapes of the books he used to read to her when he was fifteen. Using these tapes Hanna learns to read and write and begins to send Michael letters which he refuses to reply to. After twenty years Hanna is about to be released from prison and Michael is contacted and informed that he is the only person Hanna has been in contact with and that he has to take care of her. So he goes to see Hanna and is very cold with her. Hanna seems to take umbrage with this and kills herself. So there you go a basic quick summary and what a cheery summary it was too.

So, The Reader then. It’s the one film out the best picture nominations that I was probably the most dubious about. From what I’d heard the story sounded as though it could be a little slow and really not up my alley. In fact, I went into this film expecting to hate it. Well, I’m ready to admit right now that I was wrong. The Reader was a truly fucking fantastic film. The story was well paced and always managed to keep my interest. The acting was amazing and I was quite pleased to see that they didn’t go overboard with the German accents though this did seem to occasionally result in the accents slipping slightly, especially in particularly emotional scenes. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the appearance of my favourite Swiss actor Bruno Ganz as Professor Rohl, Michael’s law professor at Heidelberg University. If you don’t know who Bruno Ganz is then I suggest you stop reading this review, go and watch The Downfall in which Ganz plays Hitler during the final days of Nazi Germany and then come back.

The film’s fairly unique in that it’s the only film about the Holocaust that I can think of that deals with the horrific events without ever being set at any time during World War II itself. This provides a unique opportunity in that it really deals with German guilt after the fact and the feeling of the first generation born after the atrocities and the massive burden that they have inherited as a nation from their parents. This is particularly poignant from Michael’s point of view as he is so disgusted by the acts that Hanna has committed that he cannot bring himself to present evidence that may make her sentence more lenient, a decision that will leave him conflicted for the remainder of his life.

Perhaps the strangest part of this film is that Hanna seems to be far more ashamed of her illiteracy than the crimes she committed during her time as an SS officer. In fact she only ever hints that she feels even the slightest bit of remorse for her role in the Holocaust, leaving the viewer completely unsure of whether she’s remorseful or not. This makes her a character that it’s very hard to feel sympathy for and, perhaps to some degree, that’s the point. Maybe you’re not supposed to feel sorry for her. After all she was complicit in one of the most horrific events in recent history. On the other hand, you’ve also known her as a person for the first part of the film, before you find out about her past, and as such you’ve seen that she’s capable of love, kindness and understanding and you also know that there is no way she could have possibly written the report which leads to her harsher sentence. It pretty much leaves you as conflicted as Michael is himself.

So I guess all that’s left to say is was Kate Winslet deserving of her Best Actress award at the Oscars for this role? Well, I can’t really say yet as I haven’t seen the performances of the rest of those nominated yet, so it’ll have to wait until I’ve watched all of those but I will say that she is excellent in this film and it’s surely mostly down to her performance that you feel anything for what should be an unsympathetic character at all. It’s also worth mentioning the episode of Extras that Kate Winslet was in where she mentions that if you really want an Oscar than doing a Holocaust movie makes it pretty much guaranteed. Interesting stuff.

Anyway that’s about it. Over all I give The Reader four pints out of five.

Laterz.

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