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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Is 'The Reader' the worst Holocaust film ever made?

So many overwrought, shamelessly sentimental and earnest Holocaust films have populated the theaters in recent years that it would really be a tough call to pick the worst one ever, but noted author and essayist Ron Rosenbaum has weighed in with his choice -- "The Reader." Rosenbaum isn't just an armchair Holocaust observer, having written "Explaining Hitler," a fascinating and expansive look at Hitler's unusual origins and enigmatic psyche. Writing in Slate, Rosenbaum takes a harsh stand against any votes for "The Reader" as best picture or Kate Winslet as best actress. As he puts it:

"This is a film whose essential metaphorical thrust is to exculpate Nazi-era Germans from knowing complicity in the Final Solution. The fact that it was recently nominated for a best picture Oscar offers stunning proof that Hollywood seems to believe that if it's a 'Holocaust film,' it must be worthy of approbation, end of story."

Rosenbaum was especially appalled by a recent N.Y. Times report on the state of the Oscar race that ran a glamorous photo of Winslet above the headline "Films About Personal Triumphs Resonate with Viewers During Awards Season." WinsletNoting that Winslet, as a death-camp guard in the film, was personally involved with the gruesome deaths of 300 Jewish women locked in a burning church, Rosenbaum asks: "What, exactly, was the Kate Winslet character's 'personal triumph'? That ... she taught herself to read? What a heartwarming fable about the wonders of literacy and its ability to improve the life of an Auschwitz mass murderer!"

I'm not so sure the film's moral lessons are quite as black and white as Rosenbaum paints them. But he does burrow into the film's greatest thematic weakness -- that it uses its 1950s-era story of the sexual intimacy between Winslet and a young German teenager to create audience empathy for a loyal tool in the Nazi campaign to exterminate the German Jews.

The best part of the piece details one of those classic, carefully orchestrated Oscar taste-maker screenings, where Harvey Weinstein stops by to say hello and "Reader" filmmaker Stephen Daldry takes polite questions from the audience after showing the film. Like a skunk at a garden party, Rosenbaum brought along a friend who was so outraged by the film that he disrupted the decorous atmosphere, inspiring "shocked gasps" when he tells Daldry that the nudity was a manipulative tool used to create intimacy with an unrepentant mass murderer. Rosenbaum doesn't recount Daldry's response, though he notes that he received an outraged phone call the next morning from the film's chief publicist, upbraiding him for bringing a rude "interloper" to the screening and reminding him how important it was, in these tough economic times, for films like "The Reader" to succeed. Incredulous, Rosenbaum responds: "You mean, you're saying I could be the death of Hollywood?" If only!

RELATED:

RON ROSENBAUM ON "THE READER":

"THE READER" GETS ITS OSCAR WITHOUT SCOTT RUDIN:

HARVEY WEINSTEIN AND SCOTT RUDIN KISS AND TELL ABOUT "THE READER:"

Photo of Kate Winslet in "The Reader" by Melinda Sue Gordon / The Weinstein Co.

 
Comments () | Archives (17)

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Yes it is the worst holocaust movie ever. It is nothing and I mean NOTHING compared to Schindler's list, The pianist, or life is beautiful.

I thought the Academy Awards were supposed to be about movies and acting, not politics or religion. If this is not the case, the other award ceremonies (British Academy Film Awards, Golden Globe Awards) will rightfully have a greater legitimacy going forward.

The film is terrible not because it excuses horrible crimes, but because of it's shamelessly sentimental mix of "Summer of '42" with Nazi war crimes, throwing in a weird theme of the power of reading and literacy, a confusing and mixed-up portrayal of a boy and man's lasting obsession with his first lover, and a tiresome refusal to end even when the "story" is decisively over. Holocaust films are part of the "Oscar" genre, a style so formulaic that it may actually encompass the worst films ever made even as they are held as great. Why are they great? Because of all the conventional feelings we associate with the Holocaust, which we have elevated to a pseudo-religion. On top of this, the aging makeup on Winslet was terrible. I have never seen anyone look so much like a young actress made up to look older.

The film is terrible not because it excuses horrible crimes, but because of it's shamelessly sentimental mix of "Summer of '42" with Nazi war crimes, throwing in a weird theme of the power of reading and literacy, a confusing and mixed-up portrayal of a boy and man's lasting obsession with his first lover, and a tiresome refusal to end even when the "story" is decisively over. Holocaust films are part of the "Oscar" genre, a style so formulaic that it may actually encompass the worst films ever made even as they are held as great. Why are they great? Because of all the conventional feelings we associate with the Holocaust, which we have elevated to a pseudo-religion. On top of this, the aging makeup on Winslet was terrible. I have never seen anyone look so much like a young actress made up to look older.

Worst Holocaust film ever because a former SS guard guilty of unspeakable crimes is more troubled about her illiteracy than her role in preventing 300 jewish women from escaping a burning church and we are supposed to "understand" why she is how she is???!!!

Without question, Mr. Rosenbaum does not get it. The movie explores the very topic of revisionist thinking (from a 1965 perspective on into today). The portrayal of Hannah Schmidt as a likable character, and perhaps as a victim is crucial if we're to understand the dilemma faced by Ralph Fiennes' character. To understand Hannah hits at the heart of the movies main message. How could people have done such acts knowingly? Fiennes' character is sympathetic to Hannah, but not enough to completely forgive her – and this is as it should be. The movie does an exceptional job of reminding us that far too many people used the excuse, "we were only following orders." Hannah's unwillingness to admit illiteracy is left intentionally unclear. Was it Germanic arrogance and an unwillingness to admit inferiority, or was she attempting to reconcile her past? It doesn't really matter since she ultimately pays a higher price then the other five defendants. Mr. Rosebaum, every attempt to remind the world of these atrocities should be welcomed.

congrats kate winslet for winning the oscar for best actress finally!
its high time she was recognized for her talent
amazing job by her in portraying such a complicated character

 
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