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Extra! Extra! 'Reader" All About It

February 12, 2009 By:
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Hanna (Oscar-nominated Kate Winslet) and Michael (David Kross) are star-crossed lovers in "The Reader."

The boy in the striped pajamas has taken them off.

Much of the writings about "The Reader" -- the Oscar-nominated, Holocaust-oriented film that turns a page on the past -- has focused on the explicit nude scenes between Hanna (Kate Winslet) and Michael (David Kross), to whom the German transportation worker gives transporting tutorials in sex prefaced by his reading to her.

Forewards as foreplay? In a wayward way. But it is her inscrutable past that confuses her young suitor, half her age and wholly enamored; his read on the woman who takes him in, and then pulls out of the relationship comes alive only years later when her ignominious and infamous past associated with being a guard at a Nazi death camp comes clear.

What's clear now is that this acclaimed and controversial film -- with multiple Oscar nods, including best picture and actress for the heavily-favored-to-win Winslet -- dares to share a sense of decadence and deceit that eludes more escapist fare about the era.

Based chapter and verse on Bernard Schlink's semi-autobiographical slinky best-seller, the film bares more than skin; it reveals at its heart the soul of seduction on an amorous and amoral level.

And, in so doing, it is a defiantly different read on the Holocaust.

David Kross is the star-crossed lover Michael, portraying the yearning youngster as a teen and, later, as a law student whose one-time orgasmic history with Hanna cedes to a cataclysmic encounter.

At 18, his on-screen nude-capades were a photo finish, shot at film's end to coincide with his coming of age legally and morally to take part in the much-discussed engagingly shot entwinings.

But those who focus on the so-called propriety of the promise of sexy scenes are missing the point -- judging the "Reader" by its cover and not the substance that bookends it all.

And for Kross, currents of such talk take their toll on the understanding of what is a major accomplishment by director Stephen Daldry and a cast that also includes Ralph Fiennes in one of his finest portrayals, that of the older Michael.

Kross bears watching indeed for many reasons; the nudity is not the nucleus of what causes his character's considerable impact.

"People are missing the point of the story" to just point out that angle, says the native German of more important interpretations inherent in the film and book.

"It is not a film about that, but about the relationship [emanating from] the most intimate act you can do."

He intimates that the movie's importance is germane to Germans, as well as those on a global scale.

"It is not a Holocaust film," an assessment shared by the director, "but a film about post-war Germany and how it lives with its post-Holocaust guilt," says the erudite and earnestly accomplished young actor.

His performance is complex, complementing the script's own complexion of colors, not black and whites.

"It is important that my generation go to see it," he adds.

A Need to Know
Film as study guide for social studies?

"We are learning in school about the Holocaust," says the German student of history. "In preparation for this role, I wanted to know even more."

So the co-star of "The Reader" "read more about it."

After all, if you are coming to the set for a table-read, you better know the table of contents you're dealing with. "I felt that because I am German playing a German in difficult times, I had to know as much as I could. I am of a different generation than those [who lived during the war] and needed to" show his understanding.

He made book on the book as well, noting that The Reader is included in many school curriculum in Germany and "should be read" by all students.

Ironically, the boy who reads in the film is more on the shelf when it comes to his real-life literary leanings.

"I have to say, I am a bad reader," and he lets out a laugh.

"In preparation for the film, I rehearsed with my [younger] brother and sister, reading to them children's stories in different voices. They reacted very honestly."

Sound advice? "It was good preparation because when I read in the film, Hanna reacts like a child."

A relative novice as an actor in Germany -- this was Kross' first role in English, a language he had to learn for the part -- his relatives keep him level-headed even as his latest accomplishments make global headlines.

"My family keeps me quite normal," says Kross.

Heady times, sure, notes the concurrent star of the German film "Krabat," but more extraordinary is the performance by his co-star, Winslet -- whose winning ways and triumphant Golden Globe Award achievement, with an Oscar possibly awaiting her at red-carpet's end on Feb. 22 -- had a potent portent in a previous appearance.

In a send-up of Hollywood in an appearance a couple of years ago as herself in TV's riotous "Extras," portraying a Nazi-fighting nun in a mythical movie, she explained her taking the made-up Holocaust part as a perfect opportunity to snare an Oscar.

Hollywood and the Holocaust -- perfect together?

"Oh, I don't know," replies Kross with a laugh, cutting to the bone.

"Well, yes, maybe," he kibitzes of the veracity of Winslet's wickedly funny "Extras" quip.

But, seriously, her performance is Oscar-worthy, he attests to his co-star's talents. And as for Hollywood's hitting on the Holocaust as sure-fire material, it's understandable and inescapable.

"It's not a fascination, but what happened in Germany is complicated and interesting" from a filmmaker's perspective. "There is nothing simple about it at all."

Meanwhile, the actor hasn't learned whether or not he'll be attending the Oscars or just ... reading ... about it afterward. One thing he has come to is an understanding with himself after "The Reader": "I hope to continue to do more acting in English."

Extra! Extra! "Reader" all about it: And "it" may translate into the biggest headlines of all Feb. 22.

It could win not just for Winslet but for best picture -- if "Slumdog Millionaire" is not the Academy's final answer come that Sunday night -- with Hollywood making book on its ongoing race to spring for Hitler and Germany as, so true here, picture-perfect prize material. 

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