Welcome to the movies at PS News.
Each week, PS News’s film critic Victor Rebikoff will highlight the latest offerings from the silver screen and share his expert commentary for our information and guidance.
Director: Stephen Daldry, Mirage Enterprises, Rated MA, 124 Minutes
The Reader is a complex and disturbing film based on Bernhard Schlink's international bestselling book of the same name.
It highlights the repercussions arising from Germany’s involvement in the Holocaust, as portrayed through the story’s two main characters - Hanna and Michael.
Kate Winslet excels in her dramatic performance as former SS German official Hanna Schmitz (deservedly winning the Best Actress accolades of the 2009 Award season), while relative newcomer David Kross skilfully executes his role as 18 year old German student Michael (Hanna’s lover).
Both of these performances are deeply moving and finely crafted, and are far better than the older Michael portrayed by Ralph Fiennes.
Set in West Germany in 1958, the young Michael is initially befriended and then seduced by Hanna, with their passionate affair continuing for as long as Michael agrees to read to her each day from various classic novels he brings to her apartment.
With the summer over, Michael is distraught following Hanna’s sudden disappearance, and is left unaware of her secret background, nor the fact that Hanna is illiterate.
Their story picks up some 10 years later when Michael, studying to become a lawyer, attends a court hearing at which he sees Hanna on trial for crimes against humanity for her time as an SS officer during World War II.
Following her imprisonment, the older Michael continues his ritual of ‘reading’ to her, by sending Hanna tape recordings of the stories he used to read to her as a young man.
Stephen Daldry’s direction is at times perplexing - intertwining the film’s Holocaust issues with a sensuous and rather unusual coming of age story told by a sensitive man (the older Michael) through flashbacks (which mainly account for the film’s MA rating).
Michael struggles to understand his earlier sexual experience with a woman who brought so much disgrace to Germany, as well as his country’s older generation for their involvement in the entire Holocaust tragedy.
Despite Winslet’s magnificent performance, there are incoherencies that appear in the film due to some of Fiennes’ flashbacks.
Fiennes tells his story with a dour look that only undermines the convincing performance of Kross, especially as he goes through his range of emotions from eagerness to shock, to confusion.
While one can appreciate the wonderful casting, as well as the superb cinematography of the remarkable Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men) and a sensitive musical score by Nico Muhly, this is a movie that may not appeal to everyone, particularly in view of the tragic consequences and confronting moral dilemmas that continue not only to impact on the German people –but also the wider community.
VIC'S VERDICT: 4 Rubber Stamps