The Reader (15)



Drama (2008)
123mins US/Ger

Starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Jeanette Hain, Susanne Lothar
Director: Stephen Daldry
Writer(s): David Hare
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Barrister Michael Berg struggles with memories of his troubled past as he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter Hanna. He thinks back to the years after World War II when, as a young man, he fell dangerously ill and was aided in his hour of need by a passing stranger, Hanna Schmidt. Fully recovered and back on his feet, Michael returns to thank Hanna and the pair embark on a passionate affair, with the older woman offering expert tutorials in sex in exchange for Michael reading her extracts from some of the greatest works of fiction.

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LondonNet Film Review
The Reader

The collective guilt of Germany's 'second generation', struggling to come to terms with their parents' role in the Holocaust, underscores every elegant frame of The Reader...

Based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink, this handsome and emotionally devastating drama contemplates the need of post-war children to hold someone accountable for their country's sins. "After the war, the German people didn't want to look at what they'd done... because they had too much to hide," rails one angry law student (Volker Bruch) in the film, during a heated debate. "You're not guilty of anything merely by working at Auschwitz," counters his professor (Bruno Ganz). "8,000 people worked at Auschwitz. Precisely 19 have been convicted, and only six for murder." This tug of war between morality and the law begs difficult questions of the characters, and of us, as we become inextricably drawn into the intertwined lives of these guilt-stained protagonists. At the blackened heart of the picture is a tour de force performance from Kate Winslet as a woman accused of heinous crimes during her stint as an SS guard, working initially at Auschwitz then at a smaller camp near Cracow. We despise the guard for her actions yet Winslet delicately reveals the shame beneath the steely facade; the frail, human face of a so-called monster.

The film opens in an apartment in 1995 Berlin, where lawyer Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes) struggles with the past as he attempts to reconnect with his daughter Julia (Hannah Herzsprung). Michael thinks back to 1958 Neustadt, when as a young man (now played by David Kross), he fell dangerously ill and was aided in his hour of need by passing stranger Hanna Schmidt (Winslet). Fully recovered, Michael returns to thank Hanna and the pair embark on a passionate affair, with the older woman offering tutorials in sex in exchange for Michael reading extracts from the works of Dostoevsky, Homer and Mark Twain. Eight years later, while studying at Heidelberg Law School, Michael crosses paths with Hanna again, only this time his former lover is standing in the dock.

The Reader reunites director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare, both lauded for their work on The Hours, who deliver similarly polished work here, navigating the shifting timeframes with aplomb. Winslet's riverting portrayal of a woman capable of such cruelty ("You don't matter enough to upset me," she tells the young Michael) gets under our skin, as Hanna becomes a scapegoat for the actions of hundreds. Kross is impressive, generating palpable screen chemistry with his leading lady in their steamy sex scenes, complimented by a restrained but no less powerful performance from Fiennes in support. A Manhattan-set coda involving a surviving daughter of the Holocaust (Olin) provides a sombre final note. "Go to the theatre if you, want catharsis," she suggests. "Don't go to the camps. Nothing comes out of the camps."

- Sam Cannon


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