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Revisiting Older Movies and Why I Find The Reader Special.

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I am sure we have all seen movies that for one reason or another become totally fixed in our minds. Of the most lighthearted ones, I will never forget the first times I saw Cabaret and Victor Victoria. Both remain almost crystal clear in my mind as I have aged. I have been interested to realise over the years that when showing these movies to a younger generation of Thais, they too have enjoyed them - sometimes hugely.

I write as I have just seen another on one of the TrueVisions channels. The Reader, with a screenplay by the masterly David Hare and excellently directed by Stephen Daldry, was one of two movies for which the incomparable Kate Winslett was nominated for Best Actress in 2009. Many thought she'd win for Revolutionary Road, the tale of a desperately bored housewife in suburban America with dreams of moving to Paris with her boring and almost equally as bored husband played by Leonardo di Caprio. But she won for The Reader. I believe justifiably so.

Set in the mid-1950s, in the movie she plays a mid-30s German tram conductor, Hanna Schmidt. Returning early one evening, she finds a young schoolboy of 15, clearly sick, sitting in the entrance to her apartment block. She cleans him up and takes him back close to his home where he is discovered to have scarlet fever. But he cannot forget Hanna. After his three month recuperation, he returns with flowers to thank her. She is distant and hardly grateful. She asks that he goes down to the coal cellar to collect two buckets of coal. Returning covered in coal dust, she runs a bath for him. With youthful bashfulness he strips off and luxuriates in the bath. Then Hanna is standing by the bath with a towel and we witness the first of what essentially are sex scenes with, had the Thai censors not been so active, considerably nudity.

David Kross, the 18 year old German actor who then played the young Michael. looks gorgeous! There follow a number of scenes when he admits he is very much in love with Hanna, even though there is such a difference in their ages. It is, he tells her, his first time being with a woman and clearly he enjoys every minute of it! Even so, Hanna remains distant, her only desire that he read to her. Initially after sex; then prior to sex. 

One day he runs up to her apartment only to find it totally empty. She has disappeared. As one in the full bloom of first love, he is naturally heartbroken. Some years later as a law student studying the Holocaust, he sees her again. Unknown to him she had been an SS guard in Auschwitz during the war and is being tried along with 5 other guards with the ghastly murder of more than 200 children under their care. Watching her trial Michael is horrified and transfixed. Questioned by the Chief Judge, Hanna seems openly honest and truthful, but yet evasive. Only Michael had finally learned her other secret that, were she to confess it to the Court, could mitigate her sentence. But she is too stubborn. She remains silent. Finally he goes to see her in jail. At the last minute he gets cold feet and walks away.

Hanna gets life in prison. As the film fast forwards. Ralph Fiennes as the older Michael has clearly been unable to forget Hanna. After some 20 years he goes to visit her. She has changed immeasurably, but his feelings clearly have not. Ever since meeting her he has been virtually unable to convey his feelings even to the wife he divorced and the daughter he loves. Only as the movie ends does he begin to open up.

I find it a haunting movie - and not just because Kate Winslet is wonderful and David Kross is so tempting! It's largely about the choices we make in life and the way we communicate or not with others. It's also special as two of the producers were themselves so special in the world of filmmaking. Both died during production - the greats, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.

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