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Pointing the finger at a generation of postwar Germans

14 Comments
By Chris Betros

British theater and film director Stephen Daldry certainly knows how to bring out the best in actresses. Nicole Kidman won the best actress Oscar for “The Hours” in 2002, and Kate Winslet picked up the coveted statuette this year for her portrayal of a former concentration camp worker in “The Reader.”

Based on the controversial 1995 best-seller by German author Bernhard Schlink, “The Reader” tells the story of a young German boy (David Kross) who has an affair with an older German woman (Winslet) in 1950s Germany. Years later, the young man – now a lawyer (Ralph Fiennes) – is shocked to see the woman in court being tried for complicity in the murder of concentration camp victims.

“It’s a love story with a huge moral complexity to it,” said Daldry, 48, making his first visit to Japan in 16 years. “It points the finger at a whole generation. In 1950s and 1960s Germany, there was a veil of silence because people were realizing that everyone around them was involved in a criminal state. How do you put millions and millions of people on trial? I mean, 8,000 people worked at Auschwitz. I’ve lived in Germany and what is astonishing for me is the lack of mea culpa. I have met a number of people who I would describe as war criminals and they defend themselves, even when they are mass murderers.”

Daldry said he was grabbed by the story when he first read the book. “My good friend Anthony Minghella had the film rights to it, along with Sydney Pollack, and I tried to persuade him to let me make it. He wanted to make it but relented. While we were shooting, sadly, both Anthony and Sydney died.”

Casting the German boy was a challenge. Eventually, 17-year-old David Kross was chosen by Daldry’s German casting directors. “We had to wait until he was 18 before we could shoot the sex scenes to avoid the risk of child pornography charges. In some U.S. states, there is no distinction between 6 and 17 years old. David was very nervous about the love scenes but Kate was good with him.”

Daldry said he was very pleased when Winslet won the Oscar (he himself was nominated for best director, just as he was with his other two films, “The Hours” and “Billy Elliot”). “The hard part for Kate is that her character is perceived through the eyes of other people. She couldn't draw on anything in her own life to help her. I think it was one of the most emotionally challenging parts she had to play,” Daldry said.

“Actresses like Kate and Nicole Kidman are very trusting of directors, which is a big help," he added. "We hang around together and that helps us get a proper relationship going.”

In addition to getting the best out of actresses, Daldry has also shown himself quite skilled at bringing complex books, such as “The Hours” and “The Reader,” to the big screen. “While both those books are complicated in their thematic landscape, in terms of narrative structure, they are not that complicated. You just have to be clear what the issues are," he said. "Illiteracy is another strong theme of ‘The Reader.’ How can this woman believe that the shame of being illiterate is bigger than the shame of killing all these people. It’s a moral illiteracy. What is the relationship between moral values and literacy? Through gaining literacy during her time in prison, does she come to a moral understanding? And the answer is no.”

Besides the critical acclaim he has got for “The Reader,” Daldry has been enjoying the success of the "Billy Elliot" stage musical, which he directed, and which recently won 10 Tony awards in the U.S. “It’s due to the cast. I was thrilled that the boys won. With all that and the Oscars, I’ve been to 24 award shows since Christmas.”

“The Reader” opens in Japan on June 19.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


14 Comments
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not a bad movie really.A bit slow,but the concept was interesting.

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Pity this film has been available on DVD since last month.

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I’ve lived in Germany and what is astonishing for me is the lack of mea culpa.

He is right, Germany should take examples how Japan or ex-colonist countries like the UK showed mea culpa about their wrongdoing in past history.

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He is right, Germany should take examples how Japan or ex-colonist countries like the UK showed mea culpa about their wrongdoing in past history.

Only the perpetrator can show mea culpa - that is Daldry's point.

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One of my favourite books, very sad, tragic, and romantic but mostly sad///

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What this would make people think that Germany hadn't atoned for its sins as people who love to bash Japan constantly claim. Let's get over world war 2 shall we? There was plenty of guilt and attrocities to go around and many went unpunished.

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Hmmm. A review of this movie in a country where senior level government officals are still in denial of what Japan did in WWII. Irony, irony.

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It is a kind of offtopic but...8000 worked in the place where around 1,000,000 were killed.Do the simple maths.Why did a mil allow to be killed?

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tarantino's new nazi movie will be much better than this movie.

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What's this?

I have met a number of people who I would describe as war criminals and they defend themselves, even when they are mass murderers.

How can this be? I constantly see comments from people on the internet who insist quite vehemently that German people are totally contrite for German war crimes, and Japanese people are either ignorant of Japanese war crimes or else proud of them.

Somewhere there's a glaring inconsistency. And I don't think it's with this article. BTW, never heard of the film or book, and won't bother with the film but might just read the book one day. Sounds interesting to say the least.

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Oletstalk, what do you mean? Why did a million allow themselves to be killed by 8 thousand? If so, you should remember 2 things.

they weren't all killed at the same time. It went on for several years.

The eight thousand had all the weapons (and most of the food.)
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How come only there are only German and Japanese war criminals in the world? and why is Japanese war crimes related to this topic? I remember the days when I cite war crimes of countries other than Japan or Germany on JT and they get promptly deleted by the mods. How I miss those days..

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"How can this be? I constantly see comments from people on the internet who insist quite vehemently that German people are totally contrite for German war crimes, and Japanese people are either ignorant of Japanese war crimes or else proud of them." by dammit

Because it is actually true. The majority of German people ARE sorry for what they did. I don't know why you think they it's not the case. I think you should have lived in germany to judge their dealing with their past! and Japanese are indeed ignorant. Most of the Japanese ask me why should they bother about something which happened so long time ago. Moreover, they identify wih Germany as they think that their historic background due to WWII is similar.

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How can this be? I constantly see comments from people on the internet who insist quite vehemently that German people are totally contrite for German war crimes, and Japanese people are either ignorant of Japanese war crimes or else proud of them.

Somewhere there's a glaring inconsistency. And I don't think it's with this article.

People are indeed biased beings. But people who wish to defend something tend to be more biased than those who criticize, as while a person who chooses to criticize more often than not can wish to do so in order to improve something, those who defend tend to take it personally and form a shell around their own opinions lest it be changed. They take any criticism of the thing they are defending as completely false, refusing even to consider that even if it the criticism is biased, parts of it might be true and have to be addressed.

Such a person is clearly one of the latter. The title says "a generation of postwar Germans" and the article further expands to the Germans who lived in the directly postwar era of 1950s and 1960s. German people can still be contrite and still be compatible with this article.

That being said, there still seems to be a lack of acceptance or even ponderous knowledge in Japan of just how criminal their WWII government acted, and the actions they should be undertaking so that current government propaganda and efforts in social engineering are well understood and resisted.

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