Thought provoking movies, like this one, require some effort by an audience to get its idea across. David Hare’s screenplay unfolds in a rebuilding Germany with a nudity-laden, “summer of ‘58” type affair between a fifteen-year-old boy (David Kross) connecting with his own sexuality and an enigmatic, isolated thirtysomething woman (Kate Winslet) who apparently just wants to connect with somebody. In flashbacks that are sometimes confusing, the primary plot shifts forward eight years to find Winslet (TITANIC) as a co-defendant in a Nazi war crimes trial. Her ex-lover, now a law student, has self-incriminating information that could keep his former bedmate from serving a life sentence. What he does is at the heart of this movie about how damaged people become when they fail to “do the right thing.” At times, this theme gets off track in some heavy-handed dialogue with a law professor (Bruno Ganz) and his charges related to collective German responsibility for World War II atrocities. Sequences like these slowed the momentum and pace of this movie to a near deadly crawl. Even though I never totally understood why she let her co-defendants “throw her under the bus,” Winslet’s character is memorably haunting for her detachment from humankind and her perseverance in learning to read as a way of cleansing the “shame” of illiteracy. That and the excellent cinematography of Roger Deakins (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) and Chris Menges (THE KILLING FIELDS) are just enough to make this film worthy of recommendation despite its deficiencies. It isn’t a “holocaust” film and shouldn’t be labeled as one because there aren’t any scenes in a concentration camp. It is about the instinct to conceal one’s guilt and shame even at the expense of another person.
MOVIES TO LOOK FOR IN MARCH: WATCHMEN (March 6), THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (March 13), DUPLICITY (March 20), I LOVE YOU, MAN (March 20), KNOWING (March 20), SIN NOMBRE (March 20), THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND (March 27), ADVENTURELAND (March 27), MONSTERS vs ALIENS (March 27)