Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Reader, Stephen Daldry, Germany/ USA 2009

The original hauntingly beautiful poster for the film, which later was replaced as it was deemed not commercial enough.

In spite of the controversy Schlink's book as well as Daldry's film have caused around the globe, I must admit that I was moved and intrigued by both. The book I read a long time ago, the film, however, I only saw recently as mixed reviews and similar comments by friends didn't exactly inspire me to rush to see it. Perhaps, with my expectations so low, it is no surprise that I ended up liking the film - for rather than just being faithful to the book, I found that David Hare's screenplay added another layer to the narrative which made watching the film a provocative, interesting, experience.
First of all, I thought the performances were excellent throughout (Winslet's Oscar win is well justified, in my opinion, and I also liked the production values - production design, costumes, the camera - and, because the film has, I think, at least four different time levels, I found it didn't matter too much that there were two cinematographers (Roger Deakins and Chris Menges: as Deakins had another assignment, Menges got on board to shoot what was left) who obviously both have their separate approaches to lighting, camera angles, etc.
The heart, the essence, of the film, in a way, to me were the law school and courtroom scenes (with Bruno Ganz and Burkhart Klaussner respectively) and, of course, the end (with Lena Olin and Ralph Fiennes) as, to me, the film touches on two very tricky, yet important topics: the difficulty if not impossibility, to apply the laws of our time, meaning the laws of a democracy, to judge over the crimes committed under a - lawless - dictatorship. How can justice ever be done when evil prevailed? And now evil is being put on trial by laws which, in fact, are far too benevolent amd lenient in the light of the crimes committed ... Also, as one character rightly points out: by sheer coincidence Schmitz was convicted because of the book published by a survivor, but how about the many others? Is that fair? Is that democracy? Bruno Ganz rightly points out at some point that ‘in order to prove murder you have to prove intent’. Yes, that how it works in a democracy - but what’s on trial are people who were collaborators in mass murder. And making one woman pay while many others - if not the majority of a nation, many of whom were either bystanders or guilty of crimes themselves - got off 'unscathed'.
The other important topic is that of forgiveness; of reconciliation and, perhaps, the impossibility of it. Schmitz, surely, was not the worst of the perpetrators as one courtroom scene shows, since it is quite obvious that there was at least a certain level of remorse on her part regarding the crimes she committed. It is clear that (her shame for) her illiteracy was not the only reason why she claimed to have signed the order (leading to the death of 300 women!) which, of course, she couldn’t have done due to her illiteracy. I believe that she - and perhaps she was indeed the only one of all the women who were put on trial - was the one who realised that it didn't matter at all who signed the paper - fact is, they were all in it, 'the dead are still dead', as she herself says - and the least she, Schmitz, could do to atone for the crimes - as if atonement was ever possible - was admitting to them, even if it meant taking the rap for her partners in crime, too.
Olin, as the survivor, plays her role masterfully in my opinion, for one notices in the subtlety of her acting that although she is ever so slightly touched by Schmitz's gesture, too much has happened for her to accept Hanna's money, too much suffering has taken place for her to be able to forgive.

Kate Winslet on Oscar night.