DVD : The Reader (Stephen Daldry, 2008)

BERLIN - FEBRUARY 06:  German actor David Kros...
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Kate Winslet bagged an Oscar for her performance in this film and, as one of her 2 nominations this year, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. This is the somewhat saucy story of a young lad’s first pash with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz (Winslet). Ralph Fiennes plays the grown-up, angst ridden version of the said smitten chap. Adapted faithfully by British playwright David Hare (whose other screenwriting credits include Damage and Plenty) from the novel by Bernhard Schlink, the story gradually reveals the shameful history of the simple Hanna. Her odd coldness with the young Michael Berg (David Kross) is suggested to be as a result of her shame and simpleness. Extending into her trial for war crimes, emotion creeps into the performances and neatly illustrates why the two main characters fail to overcome their initial reserve. It is as if any emotion would collapse the protective shield holding back the terrible past (in Schmitz) which then gets transferred to the impressionable Michael, the titular Reader. The fact that this comes across in the acting is possibly the reason for the deserved nomination.

Fiennes is good as the older Berg, tackling the awkwardness of the later scenes – dealing with his failed marriage. This is signalled by the sense of unfinished business and loss in his parting from Hanna as a young man. Indeed, his early experiences desporting with the (to him) delightful Hanna seemed to rob him of both closure and the emotion needed to carry off later relationships. Not that Hanna is portrayed as a monster – more, a simple woman lacking in the intelligence to question the order of things around her. Berg must later reconcile with his daughter and proceeds to tell the whole story in the closing scenes, released from his staid, closed, quiet state by the death in prison of his former lover.

Whilst Schmitz is shown to be a victim of her own circumstances and pride, there is no attempt to make her an innocent with regards to the murders in which she played a part in the war. The film follows Schlink’s original plot well and, rarely, actually adds to its impact in the visual telling.

A simple story with some clever, albeit subtle, turns by the main players.