The Reader: the film

Locandina del film The Reader - A voce alta

How far would you go to keep a secret?

I watched The Reader on SKY recently.  I didn’t like it very much because I just couldn’t buy into the story.

From the moment the film began, it didn’t make sense that the characters were going about their business in post-WWII west Berlin while speaking English with phoney German accents.

(And I say this from a country where all films are slavishly (but very professionally) dubbed into the Italian language.  Not that I watched The Reader in Italian – since it was an English film I watched it in English with Italian subtitles.)

Anyway, the film-maker needed to find a clever, modern way to give the film linguistic integrity.  He didn’t.

German dialogue would have posed certain commercial and actor-choice constraints but in this age of sophisticated communication technology why did he not explore some new possibilities?

Some sub-titling surely could have been employed.  The film is called The Reader after all and the title alone ought to have scared off those cinema-goers who have a morbid fear of subtitles. 

On the other hand, illiteracy plays a key role in the film so the intentional use of  some kind of screen text may have been an unappreciated irony for some viewers.

My reservations about the choice of  language only grew as the film went on.

Why was Hanna being read to in English?  Why was the prison library stocked with English books? Why was the illiterate character teaching herself to read and write in English;  wouldn’t the German language have served her better?

The plot of the film was predictable in parts but I kept watching because I liked the way in which the story was told:

  • there was no voice-over narrative;
  • the visual details were interesting;
  • there were chronological gaps in the story where the viewer had to imagine what had happened;
  • there was a lack of explanation for characters’ actions and inactions;
  • there were jurisprudence issues to ponder (e.g., if you abide by the laws of the time, is it fair to be judged later on under different laws?); and
  • apart from the ludicrous German accents, many of the usual clichés of Anglo-American Nazi films were avoided (thanks to the source material – the German novel on which the film was based).


There was also the question of whether a person could teach herself to read and write in English using novels and cassettes.  German, arguably yes, with its closer correspondence between the written and spoken word, but English, with its infamously inconsistent letter-sound (grapheme-phoneme) correspondence, would certainly be a challenge.

Just as well the character concerned had plenty of time on her hands.

(I know, I know, the relevant character was in fact teaching herself to read German but she was perversely using English materials to do so!)

Many of these points have been duly noted by gruppodilettura (an Italian reading group) and others.

Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes are both talented and charismatic actors but this film would have worked much, much better if it had been a German art-house production, with German actors and German dialogue.

The Reader doesn’t even begin to compare with the entrancing The Lives of Others.

I am rather tempted by the book.  It could be a classic case of disappointing film, not-so-bad book.


About cityoflu

Secret Agent Lu likes travelling, reading, neuroses (all kinds), the Orient, cities, feet and science.
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One Response to The Reader: the film

  1. Pingback: Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf « City of Lu

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