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Young Michael starts an affair with a much older woman, learns love and passion from her, and does not understand why she walks away from him as suddenly as she had appeared.

Years later, law student Michael finds Hannah again, when he stumbles into her court trial, where she is being challenged for mass murder. She was a warden at a concentration camp. Unable to forget her, he takes on the old habit from of reading literature to her, somthing that bonded them during their relationship.

I really like Ralph Fiennes. Since seeing “Spider” (at the latest, maybe since “English Patient”), I believe he is so good that he can easily safe a film single-handed from its own flaws. He can draw the attention away from script and fellow actors, can shine in the centre of a less shining environment.

Same here. The slow, depressed way with which he is shuffling through his memories, and the hesitant and tortured approach to face his past in the person of his former lover Hannah Schmitz, is where the film kind of works. I understand why he is hesitant, why he is moody and brooding. The thing, however, is: The quality of his performance distracts the attention from the fact that the film is terribly boring. While his character is very credible, he is far from being interesting. I do not understand why I should care about these characters. Michael does not know whether his life’s love is tainted because of what he learned about the woman’s past. This is important to him, but not interesting to watch.

The woman Hanna herself, on the other hand, displays very little character features in the first place, she used to be a coward, then she was naked, and finally she is in prison. I do not see how there is any tension, thrill or other sentiment that should make us sympathise with her.

What the film tells, at the end of the day, is not very important, nor is it interesting: you should not kill people just because you cannot read (would it have been a more interesting story if she had chosen her concentration camp career for other reasons? Not sure, but could be.). There is no moral dilemma anywhere to be seen, no crossroads that challenge the intellect. People chose their actions, some are right, some are wrong. If wrong, sometimes they have to pay for that. There is no reason not to wish her in prison, there is only slight pity for Michael, the lover who had almost forgotten her and during her trial not only has to discover that she still exists, opening the old wound of sudden abandonment, but also learns things about her that for some reason make him question his previous emotions – an utterly nonsensical reaction from a man of his intellect.
One of these films designed for Award season, from actors over costumes to make-up and score (make-up not too convincing, by the way, the over 60-year old Winslet looks like a 25-year-old with a lot of wig and make-up work). My category description for this is “mainstream arthouse” – and that’s not a compliment here.

Roger Ebert likes the film much better than I do.

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