Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Reader, 2008

Todd Mason has all the links to yet another week of Overlooked Films, Audio & Video at his blog Sweet Freedom.

I have got into the habit of watching the last half-hour of a film on cable and then reading all about it on the internet. The Reader is one such movie I saw by accident last week, and I'm glad I did.

This film is set over three different periods after WWII. In the first period, a young Michael Berg has a short but passionate affair with Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), an uneducated German woman old enough to be his mother. Then, some years later, the law student is shocked to see her in court where she is standing trial for Nazi war crimes and is sentenced to life in prison. Finally, the fully grown Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes) revives his relationship with the ageing Hanna by sending her audio cassettes of classic literature, especially Homer’s The Odyssey, which he used to read out to her during their affair. Michael records each classic in his own voice and soon Hanna comes to cherish and listen to the cassettes in her grey cell. Then comes the day when Hanna is to be released and the jail warden calls up Michael because he is her only contact and relation in the outside world.

I’ll use two words to describe the parts of The Reader I watched and read about—touching and heartbreaking. Kate Winslet is outstanding as the elderly grey-haired Hanna Schmitz, probably in the role of her lifetime—she won an Oscar for best performance—while Ralph Fiennes is dapper and dignified as Michael Berg, the single father of a teenage girl. He inhabits all her three worlds—their affair, the court trial, and her last days. And while he is confused about his feelings for Hanna through much of the film, he doesn't give up on her.


Stephen Daldry directed The Reader which is based on the novel Der Vorleser (1995) by German lawyer and writer Bernhard Schlink. In 1997, Carol Brown Janeway translated the book into English under the eponymous title.

Slow moving, but recommended.

22 comments:

  1. Heard of this one but didn't know anything about it.

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    1. Charles, sometimes I catch these films on cable after they are telecast a few times.

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  2. I saw this one when it came out but not since so I'm a bit fuzzy now - I did think it was very contrived in places, which surprised me given the heavyweight talent involved, but I agree that it is also powerful and moving in places.

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    1. Sergio, it is a "moving" film but it didn't strike me as being "contrived," maybe because I'm not analytical about the films I watch and books I read. I lack insight. I often end up liking them when most others didn't really think much about them!

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  3. Both read and saw it. A little contrived as Sergio said but all in all a moving story. Illiteracy is always tragic, I think.

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    1. Patti, I hope to watch the entire film and look at it with a fresh perspective. The matter of Hanna Schmitz's illiteracy is handled well.

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  4. I'd heard of this, Prashant and always meant to watch it. It was on my Netflix queue for awhile and other things kept coming up. Now I've cancelled my Netflix subscription so I'll probably watch THE READER over on Amazon Instant. Thanks for this review, I'd totally forgotten this film.

    The book was an Oprah Winfrey Bookclub Pick a long while back. That's probably why I never read it. :)

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    1. Yvette, you are welcome. I'd love to read your review of this film. You'll do much better justice to it. I didn't know it was based on a German novel.

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  5. I have the book somewhere. I'm not a fan of Kate Winslett so I don't think I'll be looking out for the film TBH.

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    1. Col, that's fine. Kate Winslet acts well in THE READER. I didn't care for her or Leonardo DiCaprio in TITANIC, or the film itself, but she was good in THE HOLIDAY.

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    2. I didn't mind that film - but I'd rather watch Jack Black and Cameron Diaz than Winsletand Jude Law any day.

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    3. Col, I'll remember Jude Law for ENEMY AT THE GATES more than any other film of his. I usually skip a film if Jack Black's in it.

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  6. I read this book, but have never seen the film - never sure whether I should be looking it out or not....

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    1. Moira, I seem to have missed the book altogether and got to know of it only after I watched the film.

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  7. I've heard many good things about this film and its been in my To Watch movie list for quite awhile.

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    1. David, I liked the last half-hour, so I'm curious to see it from the start when it turns up on cable again.

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  8. I'd say my favorite Winslet performances so far lean toward HOLY SMOKE, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and IRIS; perhaps LITTLE CHILDREN and certainly her very early turn in HEAVENLY CREATURES. She does prefer troubled, in notable ways unpleasant characters.

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    1. Todd, I have not seen any of these films but you have a point about Winslet preferring "troubled" roles.

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  9. I never was interested in the movie, but might like to try the book someday.

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    1. Tracy, the film might not be to everyone's liking in spite of Winslet and Fiennes who put in fine performances.

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  10. I'm less familiar with Winslet's work, and more with Fiennes' though I think both can be quite good with the right material. (Plus I generally enjoy Fiennes' intensity.) The plot for this one looks riveting. And any role that lets an actress age may be an opportunity to show off good acting.

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    1. HKatz, I have enjoyed watching both their films even though I haven't seen all of them. THE READER is worth watching. Winslet is excellent, both in appearance and in acting, as an ageing woman serving a long prison term. I liked Fiennes in THE CONSTANT GARDENER and SCHINDLER'S LIST.

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