The Reader (2008)
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and Bruno Ganz.
A middle-aged lawyer named Michael (Fiennes) is haunted by the experiences of his youth when he was tangled up in a love affair with a middle-aged woman called Schmitz (Winslet). The idiosyncratic romance consisted of a trading system whereby he would read to her in exchange for sex. The soul person to understand her he feels it is his duty to support her when he encounters her years later whilst in law school.
Film structure let me down – told by a series of flashbacks – but themes dealt with important to be discussed.
The film has been in my peripheral for quite some time now. I haven’t necessarily been attracted to it albeit feeling i should cross it off my list. I presumed it would be just like the other Winslet films made in that period of time (Revolutionary Road, Little Children) when she seemed to be flavour of the month.
I was pleasantly surprised to find The Reader to be quite the little gem. Although it began with the set-up of a rites of passage genre piece about midway through the piece it took a turn in a new direction. I must admit i disliked the beginning, being bored with the old formulae of starting at the ending and creating a memoir piece through a series of flashbacks. Once you have seen Snow Falling On Cedars or another film that perfects this formulae you begin looking for films that advance it further. Unfortunately this film does not. Although, if shot in any other way it would not fit the style of narrative nor sensibility of approach… so that’s a pickle.
It was shot in the true German way – concise; aesthetically, muted tones with blue and brown colorings; withdrawn, stoic performances that withold much of the inner emotional truth of the characters; a great sense of interior design and composition. I enjoyed the subtle use of accents and underplay of different time periods. Often films that are made for international audiences are in foreign settings disregard the accents of the region or, worse of all, over-do the accents causing unwanted distraction. I also dislike when filmmakers dwell on period based props, wardrobe and decor that also proves to be unwanted distractions. Daldry knew where the focus must lie, where it should always be – in the performance and truth of each character.
I wonder whether any cinemagoer has been repelled by the notion of an older woman seducing a younger man? I for one find it perfectly reasonable. I do not understand why such a thing is so taboo. Like the prodigy child in Vitus (a segway to another good European – Swiss – film starring Ganz) explained: There is seven years difference between when the females libido is at it’s peak to when the males is (mid to late 20’s for females whereas males it is in their late teens). This works out in later years also with females lasting longer in age to males.
I think the themes in this film are incredibly important in this day and age – in fact, for the foreseeable future of human kind – exploring the importance of Acceptance (1) Schmitz accepting the young Michael for his talent of reading which reinforces his confidence in himself as a competent individual, and 2) The older Michael accepting Schmitz’s decision to hide her shame and therefore winding up in gaol), Compassion (shown in the tutorial at the law school when the students discussed the trial), Justice, Sexuality, Forgiveness, fragility of the human spirit (how broken Michael was after Schmitz’s initial disappearance/escape).