Winslet, Stephen Daldry, David Hare and David
December 4, 2008
Wendy R. Williams
Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon @2008 The
Kate Winslet and David Kross
(of Billy Elliot and The Hours
fame) has directed a powerful film version of German
writer Bernhard Schlink's book, The Reader.
The Reader, the novel, is a mega best seller,
even becoming one of Oprah's pick. It is a slim,
but powerful novel. I saw the film and reviewed
it and then attended the press roundtable. Here
is my review (be sure to scroll down for the interviews
with Winslet and company).
Opens Friday, December 12, 2008
Written By: David Hare from
Bernhard Schlink's novel The Reader
Starring: Ralph Fiennes; Kate Winslet; Bruno Ganz;
David Kross; and Lina Olin.
Reviewed by Wendy
Holocaust films have taken
myriad forms, some dealing directly with the camps,
such as Schindler’s List and The
Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Others are more
robust like this December’s release of Edwards
Zwick’s Defiance, a film that tells
the story of three Jewish brothers who escape to
the forest and form a band to fight the Nazis. But
all Holocaust films take on a mammoth task, attempting
to explain the unexplainable.
new film, The Reader (based on Bernhard
Schlink’s novel of the same name), is a Holocaust
film more on the line of Alan J. Pakula’s
Sophie’s Choice. Both Sophie’s
Choice and The Reader deal with the
aftermath of the Holocaust and its resulting devastation
on the human spirit. Sophie’s Choice
told the story of one woman’s survivor’s
guilt; The Reader deals with the effect
the Holocaust had on the German second generation,
the children who were born after the war and are
forced to come to terms with what their parents’
generation did during the war.
In the opening 1950’s
scene of The Reader, we see Kate Winslet’s
character, Hanna Schmitz, helping a teenage boy,
Michael Berg (played as a young man by David Kross).
Michael has suddenly become ill with scarlet fever
as he walks home from school. Hannah helps him by
pouring water over his soiled shoes and walking
him part of the way home.
A few weeks later,
having recovered from his illness, young Michael
calls to thank Hannah for her help. An unlikely
love affair begins between the two characters, unlikely
in that they had so little in common except physical
attraction. Michael comes from a middle class family
that values education while Hanna is a coarse working
class woman who is in her thirties. But both Hanna
and Michael are gorgeous and nature always manifests
As the summer goes
on, Michael becomes more and more infatuated with
his older lover. When they make love, she often
asks him to read to her. Hanna wants to hear everything
from Greek mythology to children’s books.
She seems to have just as much of a voracious appetite
for the spoken word as she has for her young lover’s
And then, Hanna,
suddenly and inexplicably, disappears.
We next see Michael
(still played by David Kross) in his twenties. It
is now the sixties and Michael is attending law
school and is in a seminar taught by Professor Rohl,
played by Bruno Ganz. As part of his seminar, the
class attends a Frankfurt trail, one of the very
few German trials of concentration camp guards.
When Michael enters the courtroom, he is devastated
to see that his former lover, Hanna, is one of the
defendants. Hanna and a group of other women guards
are charged with selecting which prisoners are no
longer fit to work and sending them off to the ovens.
Hanna defends herself, “There was no room,
more prisoners kept arriving.” At one point
asking the judge, “What would you have done?”
But there is more.
There was one horrific crime committed by the guards
and the other guards accuse Hanna of being the ring
leader. Michael, who is watching the trial, is thrown
into a moral dilemma; he has information that could
mitigate Hanna’s guilt. But in the end he
chooses to not help her.
In the third part
of the story, we see Michael (now played by Ralph
Fiennes) as a lawyer in his thirties. Michael life
has not worked out to his satisfaction. He has married
and is divorced and cannot seem to relate to his
daughter. He is a particularly sad man.
But then in one of
the most human and loving ways possible, Michael
reaches out to his ex lover, giving her a gift that
changes her life and brings her some measure of
happiness. But this film has no happy Hollywood
ending. There is way to much weight for this story
to end in anyway but ambiguity. The subject is too
profound; there is no place for a bow.
The tone of the
film is especially fine. Yes, it is depressing,
but this story could not have been told in a non
depressing way. But underlying the second generation
guilt subject matter is a love story. For throughout
this story of guilt and loss, there is no doubt
that these two people truly loved each other. And
they both suffered because their love was impossible.
by Roger Deakins and Chris Menges is simply stunning.
The physical scenes between the characters are beautifully
lit. Winslet and Kross look radiant. Winslet, Kross
and Fiennes do wonderful work portraying their characters.
Bravo to director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter
David Hare for doing such a thoughtful and lovely
job of bringing Bernhard Schlink's novel to the
Kate Winslet in The
with Kate Winslet, Who Plays Hanna
Question about the themes of
Revolutionary Road [the new film that Winslet
stars in with Leonardo Di Caprio] and The Reader:
Revolutionary Road is about the torment
people put themselves through. In The Reader,
the main character (Michael) has to deal with the
fact that he loved Hanna and she loved him. [Despite
what he learns about her.]
An actors job is to accept the
character they are playing and ultimately to love
them with all their scars. I do not think the audience
will love Hanna, but maybe they will understand
her. I wanted to humanize her. But it would be wrong
to give her a real center [because of what she did].
Hanna was so disconnected from society because of
Playing Hanna, I had to figure
out who I am. I walked away from Hanna like I had
been in a car crash. Talking about it [during press
week] has helped me deal with it.
Question about whether Winslet
is attracted to stories that are not black and white:
What do you think? I like the idea of throwing people
Question about whether her husband
(Revolutionary Road director Sam Mendes)
gets jealous when you act in love scenes:
He does not get jealous at all. I’m not a
porn star. He is always concerned that I feel comfortable.
I have done a lot of nudity, but I have always felt
it was relevant to the story.
Question about what it like to
work with Leonardo Di Caprio again (they both star
in Revolutionary Road). Was it more awkward
doing love scenes him or with the young boy (David
Kross in The Reader):
With anyone new, there is always some unpredictableness.
Leo and I know each other very well and are great
friends. With David Kross (who played the young
Michael in The Reader), I spent a lot of
time talking to him [about the nude scenes], telling
him that there will be a maximum of three people
on the set when the nude scenes are shot. I also
told about what it would be like, the length of
time, the lighting set up. I also told him that
he won’t believe this, but we will be laughing
the entire time.
Question about some of her controversial
roles. One of the journalist thought The Reader
had a theme of statutory rape since the character
of the boy was fifteen:
I am terribly offended by you saying the film was
about statutory rape. I did not see that at all;
Hanna thought he was eighteen. They were equals
in the relationship. In no way did she take advantage
Question about society’s
Hanna was most certainly judged.
We live in a very judgmental world.
It would be great if we could be freer. [especially
of] the media’s obsession with celebrity.
I don’t know Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie,
but their lives are a walking soap opera. Do I feel
judged? When I do, I find a way to ignore it.
Question about her German accent
in the film:
There were only two English actors, in the film
– me and Ralph Fiennes. The director made
the decision to not make the film in German with
English subtitles so it would be more accessible.
Stephen Daldry hired a dialect coach. I did a lot
of work. I listened to David Cross speaking on tape.
Hanna (Kate’s character) is a peasant woman
so her rhythm would be more chopped up. I built
in a strange rhythm.
Question about her Vanity
Fair cover and how she has always spoken out
against women being force-fed unrealistic images
of what their bodies should look like. Do you think
women will be depressed that they don’t have
No. Doing that photo shot was like being a part
of a little film. I was thrilled that Stephen Meisel
wanted to take a nude photo of me.
I thought: I’m thirty-three
and I have had two kids and Stephen Meisel wants
to take photos of me naked. It was the chance of
David Kross and Kate Winslet
in The Reader
with David Hare (the screenwriter) and Bernhard
Schlink (writer of the novel, The Reader)
Question about whether it was
hard to lose control by selling his novel to “the
Schlink: You give your book when you sell
it to the movies. But on this one, there were some
really good people. I was able to talk to Stephen
[Daldry, the director] and David and make my suggestions.
Hare: There has been a huge generational
change of thought regarding selling a book to the
movies. It used to be thought that you were selling
to the Philistines. Now it is more of an honor.
Daldry is the most collegiate
of directors, the most open and not threatened.
If the caterer has a good suggestion, Daldry wants
to hear it.
Question to Shlink about how much
of the book is autobiographical:
Shlink: I grew up in Heidelberg in the 1950’s,
went to law school and I attended the trials. The
story is not autobiographical, but it is based on
the places and things I know. When we were making
the film, I showed all the places to the director,
Daldry. We can only write about we know.
Question to Shlink about whether
he knew any SS?
Shlink: Yes, more than one. I had this great
English teacher who was SS. Back then we thought
there were good SS and bad SS. The Waffen SS were
good. Later we reexamined that concept.
Hare: This film is about truth and reconciliation.
Bernard wanted the film made in English. Everyone
in Germany knew much more about what happened than
Why were there no war crime trials
between Nuremberg and 1962 [the date of the Heidelberg
trial in the film and book]? There was one very
tenacious prosecutor. Thousand worked at Auschwitz
and only twelve were convicted.
Shlink: If those who committed monstrous
crimes were just monsters it would be so much easier
Hare: The Reader is not a Holocaust
movie; it is a movie about post war German guilt.
There is no Hollywood, no redemption – complicated
people dealing with a complicated problem.
Question about whether the world
is ready for films about Dresden [which suffered
horrific bombing attacks from the Allies]:
Shlink: Suffering alone does not crate a
The reason there were no trials
until 1962 is because people were so occupied with
getting their lives back together. They had to do
that first before they could deal with what happened.
The second generation was entangled
with the guilt of their parents. But now people
are not entangled in the guilt of their grandparents
or great grandparents.
Hare: It has been said the Germany is the
only country to build a monument to their own shame.
Question about what they will
be doing next:
Hare: I wrote a monologue about my experiences
in Berlin and Stephen is going to direct it.
David Kross and Kate Winslet
in The Reader
with Stephen Daldry, the director, and David Kross,
who played young Michael
Question about the genus of the
Daldry: We would not be here without Anthony
Minghella and Sidney Pollack [these two producers
died last year].
Anthony felt an obligation to
Bernard Schlink to get the movie made. Both men
were very involved in script and casting. Anthony
never tried to have us make the film he wanted,
he enabled us to make the film he wanted to make.
Question to David Kross about
whether this was his first film:
Kross: It was my third movie, but I have
been acting in theater since I was around ten.
Daldry: His mother was not very keen on having
him in this film.
Kross: She wanted me to finish school, said
I could do the film if I finished high school.
Question about the casting of
Daldry: I always had Kate in mind but she
was not available so I asked my friend Nicole Kidman.
Then Nicole became pregnant and we were able to
readjust our schedule so Kate could do the film.
I always had Ralph [Fiennes] in mind. And I always
knew I wanted to make it in Germany. Most of the
actors in the film are from the German theater.
These very talented actors played ridiculously small
parts. One of the ladies who played a prison warden
had to leave early one day to go play the lead in
Question to David Kross about
how difficult it was to do the nude scenes with
Kross: I was very nervous. Stephen kept telling
me that I needed to concentrate on the difficult
acting scenes and not worry about the love scenes.
[Fortunately] They were shot at the end of shooting.
Stephen Daldry: Nude scenes take
meticulous planning. You want the actors to feel
like they are in a solid and clear environment.
Kross: At the beginning it was strange and
then it got better.
Question to Stephen Daldry about
Billy Elliot [Daldry directed both Billy
Elliot the film and the West End Billy
Elliot musical show that just transferred to
Daldry: I did not know that the show would
go down so much better as a musical than as a film.
Universal is now asking me to
make a movie of the Broadway musical.
Question about how Daldry feels
about the Oscar buzz that The Reader is
Daldry: That would be a thrill but right
now all I can think about is my musical. Oscars
are a big marketing tool in the US, in the rest
of the world, not so much. What would be exciting
would be if my actors received awards.
Question about how they think
the film is going to go down in Germany?
Daldry: Florian Henckel, [the writer/ director]
of the German film The Lives of Others,
told me that he thought I was harsh on the Germans.
I did not see that at all.
Kross: The Reader was a very important
book for Germany and I am glad to be a part of the
Daldry: I hope that it will be shown in the
schools in Germany.
Question about “In the schools?”
Daldry: Yes, I expect it will be shown to
students from the age of fourteen up.
from Wendy R. Williams: That will never happen
here. [Because of the nude scenes and our prudishness.]
Daldry: I know.