German guilt punctuates this 'Reader'


POSTED: Friday, January 09, 2009

At first glance, “;The Reader”; is an erotic romp through a dysfunctional affair between a 15-year-old boy and a woman in her 30s in post-World War II Germany. I have to be honest here: We see a lot of Kate Winslet—and the boy (played by David Kross) as well, for that matter, so be forewarned that the initial sections are fairly explicit.

No tension or suspense surrounds the question about whether this odd pair—who meet by chance—will get together. Indeed, it happens rather quickly. The intrigue of this beautifully crafted movie is what happens in the years that follow, and the effect this brief relationship has on both lives.

The plot shift occurs when Michael, the young boy, becomes a law student. He comes across Hanna in a courtroom, where she is on trial for Nazi war crimes. The film wrestles with the complexity of German guilt, especially in the generation that came of age when the horrors of the concentration camps were illuminated, as well as the nature of love and our obligations to fellow human beings, especially when we discover shameful secrets about them. Nothing is quite as clear and easy as we hope.

As the title indicates, the studious Michael deepens their relationship by reading the classics from Homer and Chekhov to Hanna during their affair. Without revealing too much, it's obviously an important motif.

With her beauty subdued throughout, Winslet in the starring role is impressive, as expected, and the Oscar nomination buzz (she had five nominations under her belt by age 33) is probably warranted. Ralph Fiennes, who plays the boy as a grown-up, is moderated but always fascinating to watch. If you want light and breezy, see the flick about the naughty dog. If you prefer a story that lingers long after you leave the theater, give this one a try (it's playing at the Kahala Mall theaters) ...

Maui native Destin Daniel Cretton's short film has been accepted into this year's Sundance Film Festival, slated to begin next week. “;Short Term 12”; is a 22-minute narrative based on Cretton's experience as an employee for a residential facility in San Diego that houses teenagers suffering from child abuse and neglect. With the feel of a documentary, it follows the main character, Denim, played by Brad William Henke, through a day at work as he arrives at the realization that he's no better off than the kids he's trying to help.

Cretton worked at the facility for two years before attending film school. “;It was one of the most intense experiences of my life,”; he said in a statement. “;It opened my eyes to the ugly and sometimes horrific reality that a lot of kids are living in.”; It was shot over three days in a similar facility in Los Angeles.

Cretton has written and directed four short films, as well as a feature-length documentary called “;Drakmar: A Vassal's Journey.”; Amazingly, he made it for $200. In 2007 it premiered on HBO.

Cretton earned his B.A. from Point Loma Nazarene University and is still finishing his master's in film at San Diego State University. He also teaches a video production class at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego.