Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Reader

♣♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Starring Kate Winslet, her German accent, and her pets. She said she would no longer go nude onscreen after this one. I believe her. She already got her Oscar. So, was she better than Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius? Like Jessica Zafra said in her blog, if Meryl did this she would not be contented with just an accent, the dialogues would be in German! But in fairness to Kate Winslet, I think she has earned it. As an aging woman with a secret, which she thinks is so shameful to divulge, I believe Winslet gave the role justice. Hanna Schmitz is an interesting character. She seems simple but she is actually complex and Kate was able to show that in her portrayal.

If you have not seen the movie nor read the book and are intending to do so in the near future then stop reading right here. No holds barred, spoilers ahead!

There is one particular scene that moved me. It was that moment when Ralph Fiennes as Michael Berg was read Hanna's will. When the woman gave her the tin can, he started sobbing and then eventually cried. Throughout the film you ruminate on the nature of the relationship that Hanna and Michael had. Was it really love or plain lust? But at this specific scene, you get rid of that question. Regardless of the type of relationship they had, the point is that they HAD a relationship. And you realize, that relationship which only lasted for one summer, had a long-term effect on how Michael lived his life, on how he related to people specially to his family, on why he was so distant. In the end, it was a plain relationship between two people, a bond wherein they filled out what the other lacked, two human beings trying to find the meaning of their lives through one another. But its effect on the boy was tremendous. It makes you marvel on the mystery of human relations, on how we affect one another in our own unique way.

I think David Kross is a talented actor. Aside from getting naked, I think he was able to prove that he can act. The tour de force of his performance, in my opinion, was that scene when Hanna's verdict was read out. The camera then focused on Michael. Tears are flowing down from both eyes. His face is red. You see that he is trying his best to stop crying but he could not. It was a perfect performance of an ironic feeling that we can relate to, that feeling of power and helplessness felt simultaneously. That feeling of knowing that you have the power to change a certain outcome but then you suddenly realize that you are actually helpless because that someone you would like to help would not even help himself. And so all you could do is sit in one corner. And cry. Not just for that person, but also for yourself. I hope the kid would not get Hollywoodized. He would be better off honing his acting in his native country.

This movie reminds me of Malèna. There are many similarities, from Kate Winslet's boobs to those of Monica Bellucci; and from an Italian teenager to a German one whose coming-of-age stories are shown simultaneously with those of the main character. But more than those trivialities, I think the best similarity worth noting is the characterization of both Malèna and Hanna Schmitz. I have read a comment on the Internet stating that Hanna Schmitz is Nazi Germany. She is illiterate and is ashamed to admit it, while the other five convicted women were Germany's allies also guilty of crimes against the Jews but chose to band together and put all the blame on just one. And that is how Germany went down in history so that at present when we say Nazi we always equate it to that country. Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz is the personification of Nazi Germany just as Monica Bellucci as Malèna was the humanization of pre and post-war Italy. To assimilate that symbolism in a particular character, I think that is plain genius. Despite the nudity, that symbolism gives not just the character, but the whole story a certain kind of depth, a whole new meaning worthy of appreciation.

There were some funny scenes, specially that one when Hanna was crying on Michael's lap as he read to her a sad story, perhaps a love tragedy. To some people, Hanna Schimtz's character is a joke. You go to jail for life because you are ashamed to admit to everyone that you are illiterate? That is bullshit, to some people. But I think the author of the book (Der Vorleser) had his metaphors in mind and in order to understand Hanna's motives and way of thinking, you have to understand the standpoint of the author. Actually, the author of the book really intended to make Hanna Schmitz a metaphor for Nazi Germany. So if you think of it you really could not judge Hanna as a person, you have to take all that into consideration. You could not interpret her superficially. You have to dig deeper. That is when you start to realize what the author is trying to say.

Lena Olin. I knew I already saw that woman in Alias! Her exposure is short but her screen presence was powerful. Great performance. In the few minutes that you see her, you get to feel her bitterness, made appropriate and understandable by the experience she went through; and then her indifference, her personal struggle to try and understand something that she already decided not to understand, and then her reluctant tolerance as she put the tin can next to the photograph on the desk.

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