Friday 26 November 2010

The Reader (2008) - Stephen Daldry

As if we didn't see enough of Kate Winslet in Titanic, there's plenty of nudity and eroticism here in The Reader, even if it does border on child abuseMoreover, Winslet reveals herself as a truly talented actress deserving of the high praise she has received.

What begins as a simple plot about a teenage boy in Germany and his illicit affair with an older woman spirals, over time, into a story about the impact of Auschwitz through the generations.  More so, it is a tale about the impact of the past on our future; the catharsis of literature; and overcoming guilt.  This is framed by the overarching story of a father who learns to accept the past and his emotions, finally opening up to others - most of all his daughter.  It is a fairly slow narrative that gradually draws you in, most prominently through its characterisation.  It is no surprise that Winslet won an Oscar for her performance as a woman conflicted by inner turmoil, shame and regret - the success of the film hangs largely on her character and she proves here that her skills are remarkable.  Kross and Fiennes also do a fantastic job in their dual role as the teenage and adult Michael respectively.

It is, due to its melancholic subject, a rather bleak and sombre film, matched by the washed out visuals.  But, though the film evades over-sentimentality, it seems to be lacking a certain amount of emotional impact.  The film invites us to question the morality of a prison guard at Auschwitz and expects us to accept that, due to her illiteracy, her complicity in mass murder can be forgiven.  This, understandably, is a little hard to stomach.

Ironically, the film is based on a novel by German writer Bernhard Schlink.  Though I am not familiar with it, I would imagine that the film has attempted to encompass all of its details.  As a result, the film covers too much ground and lacks focus.  Perhaps for this reason Winslet's performance is so prominent - it provides a constant for the audience to latch on to.

The Reader is worth watching for Winslet, but, though the film is thought-provoking, I'd choose Schindler's List for a more successful take on the tragedy of Auschwitz.