コラム：パリジェンヌの東京映画レポート！ - 第2回
When Japanese people become more romantic than French people...／How to read “The Reader”
“The Reader”, published in 1995 by Bernard Schlink, quickly reached the bestseller ranking and used to belong to my favourite books. I have read it again and again, still feeling its incredible intensity, causing ambivalent and disturbing feelings. As it was adaptated for film by Stephen Daldry, I appreciated its fidelity to the book's atmosphere and capacity not to give ready-made answers about crime and forgiveness. Then, I arrived in Japan...
As I was convinced to live in the country of romanticism and love lyricism, just imagine my surprise when I discovered that Japanese people outperformed us! Look at the title: “Der Vorleser” (German) “The Reader” (English), “Le Liseur” (French) but “愛を読むひと”in Japanese!! A drop of love and tenderness... This reflects the look taken by some Japanese spectators to the movie. “The Reader” is first and foremost viewed as a love story, lead by a melodramatic sentimentality, telling an unusual passion between a teenager and a mature woman... a "girl thing". That was confirmed by the Japan Times Online, underlining in a great article about the deepness of the story that “in Japan, “The Reader” is being touted as a love story”. Of course, it is not the case of all Japanese people and most of them saw both aspects of the story. But the European woman that I am cannot help protesting...
"We" European people view “The Reader” as a deep human story, mainly focusing on Hanna's past, which she does not view as a crime, and her illiteracy’s burden on her life course. Doubtlessly, the passion between both characters is significant. This love, the fact that she initiated him sexually and that he trusted her, are the reason why Michael feels betrayed and lost among contradictory feelings when discovering her past. During press conferences, journalists from the whole world have asked details about the filming of the sex scenes with the teenager. But that was only gossip, not the central subject of the movie. Love is used as an excuse to trigger off a huge emotional upheaval to Michael and to explain his devotion towards Hanna, even in jail.
The highest interest of the movie lies in an original view of participants to the World War II crimes and concentration camps' activities. For once, it is about executioners and not victims. For once, they are not accused: without being forgiven, their humanity is restored and that is interesting. The movie perfectly shows how Hanna's behaviour was lead by practical considerations: the SS were recruiting? She needed a job. She loved literature but was not able to read? She made people read to her and made them killed so that her secret, her ultimate weakness, was not given away. She shows no cruelty, truly thinking that her illiteracy is more disgraceful than her camp guard job.
Thus, it deals with an executioner, but having a story, feelings and humanity. Under no circumstances it is about forgiving her nor finding a rational explanation to her acts but only about showing how life is ambivalent and avoiding clear-cut judgements. Michael is also condemnable: under the pretext of honouring her decision, he protests inwardly but only turns out to be the silent and coward witness of the suicide of his lover. The movie doesn't give any ready-made answer concerning the attitude to adopt. As Michael, we are confronted to a kind of unrest, unable to find a firm position. The movie ends with this strange feeling, conducive to thought...
Thus, love or philosophy story? Both. With different priorities: French people insist more on the historical and philosophical aspect, Japanese people mainly focus on the love aspect. Why? Basically, it may depend on the way it was promoted: Japanese publicities presented as an extreme love story between a teenager and a mature woman, and it might have influenced spectators. But I’d rather believe that such things depend on the Earth side, the position of the sun and... the romanticism degree?