Germany, 1958. A teenager falls ill on the way home from school and is helped by a woman. He is quite ill, and kept in bed for several months. When he recovers, he returns to her with flowers and unexpectedly, they fall into a romantic encounter. They spend a summer together, with him reading to her between lovemaking, and then she disappears. He does not see her again until, as a law student, he attends a trial of a group of female SS guards who were charged with crimes committed during the war and she is one of them. He struggles to control how he feels about this; how he can reconcile the picture of the woman he loved with the actions she committed in her past.
As happens with me sometimes in films, one thing bothered me from the start and it took a lot of work for me to overcome it. That was, the accents. The film is set in Germany, but is an American made film. Consequently, it was not made in German; however, did everyone need to speak English with German accents? I had an issue recently with the mini-series The Spies of Warsaw for finding it difficult to know who was from which country, so perhaps it is contradictory of me to have a problem with this, but I do. I did eventually get over this.
I found this a very interesting film that raises a lot of questions and debate. When you get into a relationship or even just a friendship with someone, it is not possible to know their whole past. But when part of their past is as huge as this, how would you bring it up? How does a country that has been through the atrocities that Germany did during the war ever get past it? What happens to all of the soldiers, guards, whoever who committed the crimes after the war, and what about everyone else? This was a superb film, with strong performances, especially Kate Winslet as the lover/criminal, David Kross as the young lover and Ralph Fiennes as the lover as an adult.
The Reader won an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Kate Winslet) and was nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Directing, Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay and Best Achievement in Cinematography.