Film Reviews

THE READER

By • Dec 10th, 2008 •

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Winslet is brilliant, fearless and shows other actresses how to play real people without compromising. Kidman and Jolie, I’m speaking directly to you. You are movie stars; Winselt is an actress.

The Helmbrechts Death March was 195 miles; Flossenburg to Regensburg Death March: 250 miles; Neuentamme to Sandbostel Death March: 215 miles; Berga to Plauen Death March: 170 miles.

A survivor of the Helmbrechts Death March reported: “We passed through some German town. We asked for food. At first they thought that we were German refugees. The SS man who accompanied us shouted: “Don’t give them [anything] to eat, it’s Jews they are.’ And so I got no food. German children began to throw stones at us.” (“Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust” by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.)

It was not only German citizens who supported Hitler’s “Final Solution”. Every village in every country Hitler invaded greatly benefited from the elimination of the Jews. While the Germans may have taken valuable art and bank accounts, ordinary people descended upon the property of the Jews. All the possessions of six million Jews were stolen by neighbors. Yet, the Germans have taken sole responsibility for the horror. I don’t think we should ignore the ordinary Europeans, not only Germans, who knew, supported, helped, and benefited from Hitler’s plan to remove all Jews from Europe.

I’m reading for a second time “How Mankind Committed the Ultimate Infamy at Auschwitz: A New History” by Laurence Rees.

THE READER is an extraordinary film that only Kate Winslet could star in. What other actress would even consider this terrifying role?

Michael Berg (David Kross) is a 15-year-old suddenly felled by the onset of Scarlet Fever one day after school. He is helped by a mysterious older woman, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). When he recovers months later, he visits Hanna and they begin an intense sexual affair.

Hanna encourages Michael to read to her; in fact, he is required to do so if he wants to make love. Michael falls passionately in love with Hanna and when she suddenly disappears, she haunts the rest of his life. Eight years later Michael is an honors law student and attending the trial of seven women who worked as guards in the notorious Auschwitz extermination camp. He recognizes one of the women, the guard accused by the others as being the leader, as Hanna. Hanna admits to selecting people for extermination. It was her job. But did she write the order for the burning to death of a group of prisoners?

A survivor of the Dora-Mittelbau camp reported: “One night we stopped near the town of Gardelegen. We lay down in a field and several Germans went to consult about what they should do. They returned with a lot of young people from the Hitler Youth and with members of the police force from the town. They chased us all into a large barn. Since we were 5,000-6,000 people, the wall of the barn collapsed from the pressure of the mass of people, and many of us fled. The Germans poured out petrol and set the barn on fire. Several thousand people were burned alive.” (“Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust” by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.)

Michael knows something that can save Hanna’s life, or at least reduce her sentence. Should he come forward and ruin his career goals by giving testimony favorable to Hanna?

Directed by Stephen Daldry and written by David Hare from Bernhard Schlink’s novel “The Reader”, it is Winselt who is devastating in the role. Will there be any competition for her for as Best Actress of 2008? Daldry brings a realism and beauty to a story not easily told. This is a triumph.

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