Published Jan 05, 2009Stephen Daldry's recent Oscar baiting is a shamefully contrived series of manufactured dramatic scenes exploiting everything from explicit sex, the holocaust and suicide to fool us into thinking there's some profound lessons about life.
It's '50s West Germany and teenaged Michael Berg (David Kross) strikes up a naughty sexual affair with an older woman, Hannah (Kate Winslet). As suddenly as their romance begins it ends when Hannah disappears from David's life. David encounters her again years later at law school when he finds her on trial for Nazi war crimes (who knew?). When David grows up to be Ralph Fiennes, he starts up an even more peculiar relationship with Hannah when she's in prison: sending audio tapes of him reading books to her, an act that eventually allows Hannah to atone for her sins.
This movie keeps going and going and going. The first act is a tender coming-of-age romance in the tradition of sexual exploration films like The Graduate or Last Tango in Paris. The bombshell of the Holocaust, which is dropped on us, is an unnecessary and contrived manipulation of character. There are no hints of Hannah's nefarious past, and it all feels like shameless exploitation. Hannah could have been a reformed murderer and the dynamic of her character would have been the same.
Daldry discards the themes of youth coming of age and abandonment for the moral history lesson of the Holocaust. For the entire second act though David is inactive, only reactive to the revelations. When Ralph Fiennes takes over the character the film continues on and on over the decades to encompass the rest of Hannah's life into old age. More ridiculous contrivances are dropped on us, including a revelation about Hannah's deep secret (deeper than the Nazi one), a suicide attempt and the significance of an old yellow tea box.
Lena Olin appears in a scene at the end, the length of which muddies the theme and point of the film even more. By the end it's a hodgepodge of Oscar scenes, hot, steamy sex, unnecessary fleshy nude scenes, dramatic courtroom twists, aging make-up, painful repression of memories and long lost reunifications.
At the very least everyone speaks with a good German accent, which can't be said of some other non-German-made Nazi films this year. (Alliance)